Finding the meaning in little flags

image It’s been 14 years since I introduced my oldest daughter to the meaning of Memorial Day. She was seven then, but I still remember the short gusts of warm wind on my neck, the earthy smell of the fresh-cut grass, and the hushed snap of small American flags standing like sentries next to dozens of tombstones along the hillside.

“How come some of them have little flags, and some don’t?” my daughter asked.

It was near sunset as we strolled through our local cemetery. Though we didn’t have any family members buried there, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain the meaning of Memorial Day to her.

“Do you know what war is?” I asked.

“When people fight,” she answered, then clarified herself; “A whole bunch of

“That’s right, but do you know why they fight?”

She thought a moment, then shook her head.

“Well, they are usually trying to protect something,” I explained. “Like where they live, or the kind of church they go to, or the right to express themselves. These little flags are for people who fought for you and me β€” so that we could have all those things.”

“And they died while they were fighting?” she asked, and crouched in front
of a small flag that had fallen over. She looked at me, and I nodded.

“A lot of them did,” I answered, watching as she stuck the little flag back
into the ground. “But not all of them. Some died later, after they were done
fighting for us.”

“But they still get a flag, right?”

“That’s right.”

We sat there for a moment, watching as the fabric of stars and stripes waved in the evening breeze. Hugging her knees to her chest, my daughter surveyed the hilly grass, and the long shadows stretching away from the setting sun.

“There sure are a lot of little flags out there,” she said finally.

“Yes, there are.”

She was silent again, and I began to wonder if I had laid too much reality
on her.

After a moment, she stood and brushed grass from the seat of her pants.
“C’mon, Dad,” she said, and reached for my hand.

“You ready to go?”

“Uh-huh,” she said. “After we fix those other flags down there. Some of them fell over. We need to make them straight.”

This Memorial Day, take time to notice the little flags. There are many.

And they all deserve our attention.

By Ned Hickson/Siuslaw News
Ned Hickson photo/Siuslaw News


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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

42 thoughts on “Finding the meaning in little flags”

  1. Your daughter’s response of “We need to make them straight.” brought tears to my eyes Ned. Beautiful. the men and women who fought and died for our freedom deserve our utmost respect. i’m not normally big on flag waving in general but in respect for those who gave so much it is absolutely perfect and the more the better. Happy Memorial Day to you and your family Ned.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Paul. I’m not exactly a flag-waving patriot, but showing reverence for those who sacrificed so much is the right thing to do regardless of who’s flag is being waved.

  2. Beautiful.

    I remember visiting a war memorial with my Mother. It was our first time. It had lists of names of those who had died in a war, and she looked for – and found – several men she knew had fought, but not whether they survived. I will never forget what it was like for her, in those moments of finding those names, and the aftermath of that knowledge.

    I hope I never have the same experience.

    1. Thanks, Ann.
      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no one ever had to experience that feeling again? But since that won’t ever happen, all we can do is never forget those who sacrificed everything so we didn’t have to.

    1. Thanks, Robyn. On Friday, our newspaper has weekly feature called “Word on the Street,” when we pose a question to random people in the community and print their answers. This week’s question was: What does Memorial Day mean to you. I was shocked and disappointed that most people answered “A day off.”

      I felt I needed to say something about that, and this memory seemed fitting.

      1. I understand about those thoughtless replies… I won’t say how it really makes me want to reply to those, in deference to my loved ones who are under, and the some who will some day, be under such flags. Again, thanks for being one of the people who get it.

  3. Very Nice. In the UK we display the Poppy flower rather than a flag. After the prolonged battles in the fields of northern Europe in WW1, there was not a blade of grass left to be seen in the mud. The first thing to flower was the deep red Poppy which came to symbolise the blood lost.

    1. That is a fitting and thoughtful tribute, Bill. I know that the Veterans of Foreign Wars always hand out little red poppies on Memorial Day. I never knew why. Now I do. Thank you!

  4. Love this, Ned! When I was little we lived two doors down from a cemetery and I thought it’d be a great idea to collect them all. Let’s just say, my talk was not as sweet as your daughter’s. And I had to spend hours putting them all back. But I always respected them after that.

  5. I love your serious posts, Ned. And this one was simply beautiful.
    Thank you. xox

    Wait. Do you have a 21 year old daughter? WHAT?

  6. My daughter is seven, and she would straighten the flags too, if I took her to a cemetery to learn and reflect. But no, we went to the zoo and the beach like right and proper Americans. πŸ˜‰

      1. It turns out they really do.

        But seriously, we’ll go when my son can go too and I’ll take the family history books my mom wrote and we’ll look together at the flags in front of us and the long line of service behind us.

  7. standing tall after seeing so many fall, is often one of the hardest burdens a returning soldier feels. standing with them, to support them, shows them they are never alone, in spite of how they may feel at times. a child’s acceptance…her trust in her father…and her innate sense of whats right…was a beautiful tribute. what a beautiful memory.

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