Finding the meaning in little flags

(Though we live in a time where the lines that divide us seem more clearly drawn than ever, for today I hope we can unite in solemn appreciation for the men and women throughout our nation’s history who sacrificed themselves so that we can live — and even disagree — as Americans. As adults, we tend to complicate things and ideals. It’s days like today that I am reminded that a child’s pure, unbiased perspective is sometimes our best source of wisdom…)

image It’s been 15 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 — 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...

27 thoughts on “Finding the meaning in little flags”

  1. When you are being funny, I think you might just be the funniest man I’ve ever “met.” But when you are being serious, you never fail to touch my heart. Because you get it. Every time.

    Thank you for making sure the rest of us don’t forget the things that count. A blessed and thoughtful Memorial Day to you, Ned. And some happy time with your family, as well.

    ” . . . a lot of little flags out there,” indeed. And all of them worthy of our heartfelt thanks.

  2. Thank you Ned. Nicely said. I bet your children stood for the flag at the parade too. Our local Cemetery is just beautiful today.

    1. Your so very right about our obligation as parents to make sure our children remember where their freedoms comes from. Thanks for sharing that thought, Laurel.

  3. War is not healthy for living creatures, but some of the times when we have gone to war, it has saved the earth from tyranny, although not in the last 71 years. Regarding the last “just” war (World War II) , your words to your daughter are memorable.

  4. Heart warming. We must always honor those who gave their lives for the peace & freedom we have today. There are not enough words or actions of thanks we can show them. I know today is memorial day in the USA. Actually, I like taking part in saying my peace and gratitude for all the memorial days in every country as it is one earth and we all share it, and those who fright for peace are the ones who give me my freedom today. Eternally thankful to all – all over the world. Blogger from London, UK

  5. What a wonderful lesson for your daughter! I try not to take the sacrifices our soldiers make for granted and I ALWAYS thank them for their service when I see them in uniform, no matter where they are, but most especially if they are in an airport on on a plane with me. Memorial Day and Veterans Day are both emotional occasions for me because of the men and women from my own family. It was sweet of you to take the time and explain things to your little girl the way you did… as Hook would say, “You’re a good egg Ned!” 😉

    1. Understanding the sacrifice others make is an important lesson for all our kids to understand. It makes them compassionate, which is a quality that’s@ getting harder and harder to find.

  6. I wish more people would teach their kids the significance of those little flags. Sometimes it seems like too many have forgotten, and they take what they have for granted. Especially those who now act like people who serve are evil killers, and burn the American flag in protest. It makes me worry about the future of our country.

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