Details are tucked away in the distant crevasses of my memory about one of life’s teachable moments. That lesson has stuck with me for nearly 60 years.
I wish I had that teachable moment on video so I could replay it for people today. It might help with all of the angst we are going through now over the issue of our flag and the National Anthem.
Things were much simpler back in the 1950s. World War II was still a fresh memory for our parents, having ended only a decade in the past. Maybe that was why adults back then were focused on seeing our similarities, rather than our differences.
I was a grade school kid then. We stood each morning and faced the flag at the front of our classroom and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
We had done this for as long as I could remember. But one day, I recall our teacher telling us a new student would be joining our class, and there was something she wanted us to know.
The teacher’s little talk went something like this:
Boys and girls, there will be a new student joining our class tomorrow. When we stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance, she won’t be standing with us.
But this is OK. She is a member of a religion that doesn’t believe in saluting the flag and saying the Pledge.
I want you to welcome her into our class. I don’t want you to ever make fun of her for not standing with us.
And we never did.
Today, we would call our behavior after the teacher’s talk “Iowa nice.” But there was more involved, I learned later.
In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students who were members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (like my new friend a dozen or so years later was) could not be compelled to stand and salute the flag.
The court’s ruling was not popular in those war years, of course. But Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “Freedom to disagree is not limited to things that do not matter much.”
The Washington Post editorial board recently wrote that the American principle of freedom of speech means real patriotism is not an enforced conformity but is an embrace of our differences — whether that’s in the classrooms of our public schools, on the football fields of the National Football League or Iowa high schools, or anywhere else across the United States.
Bloomfield Elementary School in the 1950s and 1960s was a world removed from schools of 2017, at least schools in some parts of our nation.
Consider the case of India Landry, 17, who attends high school in Houston, Texas. She had been staying seated during the Pledge of Allegiance because of her concerns about the treatment of black Americans, especially by the legal system.
But two weeks ago, as the president was expressing his strong views about NFL football players who do not stand for the National Anthem, India Landry’s school principal told her she would have to stand for the Pledge or she would be kicked out of school.
India remained seated, and she was expelled. Public pressure (and a conversation with the school district’s lawyer, I’m sure) led the administrator to a change of heart. India was allowed back in the classroom — and once again is being allowed to sit during the Pledge, in accordance with her wishes.
As a product of the 1950s and the son of World War II parents, I always stand for the Pledge and the National Anthem. But I would never tell someone they are not allowed to kneel or remain seated.
While I was raised to stand and show respect during the Pledge and the Anthem, I’m also a strong believer in the First Amendment and people’s right to express themselves in ways that are different from mine. I can be both, because Dad and hundreds of thousands of other GIs served in World War II to protect our freedoms from the dictators of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
About 10 years ago, I was at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., for a conference at the U.S. Army War College. Some members of the military I got to know that week had served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Others were headed there when our conference ended.
One afternoon, we climbed on a bus for a reception at the post commander’s residence. On the way, a bugle call began in the distance. It was 5 p.m. Our driver quickly pulled over and stopped. Our military escorts got out and saluted. The rest of us, all civilians, hopped out and stood at attention.
Next to the road, a bunch of teenagers stopped their soccer game and stood quietly at attention, too.
The bugle call was Retreat, which sounds on U.S. military installations worldwide at the end of each work day.
The wonderful thing about the United States is that no one can require you to stand, whether you are on the second-oldest Army post in the U.S., are ready to begin a football game, or are a student in the public schools.
That’s as it should be. Dad and countless other men and women from Davis County left home for several important years in the 1940s — and some came home in caskets — to ensure we have that freedom to choose what we want to do.
by Randy Evans
Reprint from Bloomfield Democrat
Photo via Keith Allison