This Flag, My Flag

July 2, 2018

When I was twelve years old, the week before Christmas, I went to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial with my Grandmother and my Uncle who was stationed at Pearl Harbor.  That day, my twelve year old eyes saw  December 7, 1941,  through my Grandmother Lenis's twelve year old eyes.

If you've never been to the Arizona Memorial, there is a film they show to explain what happened that day.  The film begins with a camera going down under water while the names of the fallen are whispered and echoed as the camera approaches the barnacle covered ship.  As you are transported below the waters to the resting place of those 1,177 faithful servicemen who gave their all on a beautiful Sunday morning, there is an eeriness that they are present.  Above where those 1,177 men are entombed, we watched a film of their last day- footage of them fighting for their lives in what became a fiery, watery grave.

Lenis lost friends in World War II.  She lost boys she grew up with, who were older brothers of her friends, boys she'd had little girl crushes on, and boys who had helped her family out on their farm.  As the names of the Arizona fallen were called, her mascara ran down her face in streaks.  I had never seen her cry, never.

My Grandmother is 89 years old this year.  She looks 75 and until recently has always been in the best shape of anyone I have ever known.  We all begin to wear out and we grow tired.  I can tell, for the first time, that she is getting tired.  She is strong.  She is resilient. She has seen and done, fought more fights, and won more battles- in her own home, in the court room, in lease negotiations, and in her own mind- than most people could even fathom.  She is fabulous.  She is fearless.  She is a badass. For me to see her cry was overwhelming.  She is stoic.

As she told me the stories of the boys she knew who had gone away to war, she told me how she and her cousin Jody made homemade candy and sent care packages to the boys from their community- hoping that the candy would make it to the boys before the enemy did.  She cried telling me about a boy who never came home.  All she said as she wiped the black streaks off of her face was "a good boy, he was a good boy."

Three years later, at the age of 15, I saw the Arizona Memorial from a different perspective.  I rode the ferry to Ford Island quite often to the pool there with my new found friend, Chrissy.  The buildings on Ford Island still had bullet holes in them from the attack in 1941. I knew what they meant.  I knew how many men had died.  I knew that my Grandmother's heart was broken, and mine was too.  Every bullet hole and remnant of bombing was still in tact; time stood still on Ford Island.

The Arizona became real to me, as well as the other seventeen ships and their men.  I swam in the pool so many of those good boys swam in when they were enjoying Hawaii and all of its majesty.  I saw the air control tower that so many men used to launch a response to the unexpected attack on that fateful December day, the same one you see in the movies Tora, Tora, Tora! and in Pearl Harbor.

I remember one particular day, as the sun was beginning to set on our ferry as we traveled back to Oahu, we saluted the flag on the Arizona.  We stood proud.  We were silent.  We held our heads high.  Tears rolled down my fifteen year old face thinking about that boy, that good boy, my Grandmother had known.

When I graduated from high school on May 26, 1989, the Arizona Memorial flew a flag- this flag, my flag.  Maybe my Uncle didn't realize why I asked for a flag for graduation, but I am so thankful for it every day.  It was flown at the exact time that I graduated.  It is and has always been in a place of reverence in my home. A reminder to me of that boy, that good boy- that boy who wasn't much older than I was when I graduated.  This flag, my flag, is a symbol to remind me that as long as we have freedom, we have choices.  Choices yield possibilities.

As we approach the 4th of July, I pray that God will continue to richly bless us all. I pray that we don't take for granted the sacrifices of all of the good boys and good girls who have given their all, their lives,  so that we might make solid choices- choices that might yield possibilities, that in turn, could make dreams come true for generations we will never meet.

Love Y'all,

***Update- the boy's name was either Calvin or Alvin Bray

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