03 December 2009


In his classic Street Without Joy (La Rue Sans Joie), Bernard Fall wrote of an experience he had in Saigon in the early 50s. He was at a French Officers’ Club, watching several Frog officers and their ladies at play. An old Cambodian Master Sergeant respectfully approached one of the officers with a document for signature. The Frog rudely dismissed the Sergeant, berating him for interrupting his recreation and telling him to wait until the officer was ready for him. The Sergeant waited for several hours.

At 5:00pm, the sound of the French bugle call for evening colors wafted over the trees. Fall could see the tricolor being lowered. The Master Sergeant snapped to attention, while the Frogs and their ladies ignored the flag.

Fall wrote that he knew at that moment that the French experiment in Indo-China was doomed.

Yesterday, as I drove past our local elementary school—at which SWMBO is a one-on-one aide and Bionicle Boy is a student—I noticed that the National Ensign was tattered and torn. I went into the office to see if anyone had noticed. (Marines are pretty flag-conscious, but I have come to learn that most civilians are not.) The secretary apologized and noted that she would order a replacement.

This morning, on my way to the VA, I saw the old flag still flying, albeit at half-mast. I called SWMBO and asked her to find out who had died.

Her reply e-mail was to the effect that the flag was stuck at half-mast because as it was being lowered for replacement, the halyard had become stuck. Then she added, “Next time you are tempted to complain, please don’t. 'The office' has told teachers that ‘some parent’ complained about the condition of the flag. The staff is buzzing, suggesting that ‘If the parent is so concerned, he should just go out and buy a flag himself!’”

I made time in my schedule to drop in on the Principal. He was very cordial, apologized because he had not noticed the condition of the flag, and cordially declined my offer to buy a new flag. I left satisfied by his response (and his obvious leadership).

But what does it say about our sense of nationhood when teachers belittle a fellow citizen simply because he sought to correct a situation in which the Flag Code of the United States is being violated? See, 4 USC §8k. "The world wonders. . ." (100 irrevocable lifetime macho points for anyone who can explain the final quote as it aplies to US history.)


Eric said...

I guess I earn the macho points.

Tagline filler on a message sent to "Bull Halsey" in the battle of the Phillipine Sea asking him if he could take time out of his busy day chasing a ghost fleet of worthless aircraft carriers to save the invasion fleet. Said invation fleet was under attack by a Japanese force that included the Yamato, the biggest battleship ever built.

It was saved by Japanese incompetence, "jeep" carriers and destroyer escorts.

Mac said...
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Mac said...

Well Done! Read Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors for a marvelous history of those gallant DDs and DEs. But it was the Battle of San Bernadino Strait, not the Philippine Sea ("The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot").

Steve said...

But was that line not a reference to "The Charge of the Light Brigade"?

Mac said...


The line is certainly close to one from Tennyson. However, in the case of the message from Nimitz to Halsey, it was simply the next random phrase from the padding book in use at the time. Halsey is reputed to have thought it was intentional long after the war was over.