(Transcript of speech at Sept. 4 opening ceremony of Muncie’s Field of Honor, commemorating week leading up to Sept. 11)
The first stanza of the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers” says, “Faith of our fathers, living still. In spite of dungeon, fire and sword! O how our hearts beat high with joy. Whene’er we hear that glorious word! Faith of our fathers! Holy faith! We will be true to thee till death!”
Sen. John McCain chose a play on words when he entitled his first book, “Faith of My Fathers.” While it tells the story of his grandfather and father, who were both admirals, we also learn about Mike Christian, one of McCain’s fellow prisoners of war in the Hanoi Hilton.
Christian grew up poor near Selma, Ala. At age 17, he enlisted in the Navy, eventually becoming a commissioned officer. As a bomber-navigator, he was shot down over North Vietnam. He and McCain became cellmates. POWs could receive packages from home with handkerchiefs, scarves and other clothing items.
From small scraps of such cloth and a needle he fashioned from bamboo, Christian sewed together an American flag. Every afternoon, they would hang it on the wall of their cell and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
When North Vietnamese guards discovered and confiscated his flag, they beat him in front of his other cellmates, puncturing his eardrum and breaking several ribs. After being put back in the cell bleeding and nearly senseless, with his eyes nearly swollen shut, he picked up his needle and began sewing another flag.
Vietnam today is among five Communist countries remaining. We may have won the Cold War, when, at its peak, communism ruled a third of humanity. The hammer and sickle no longer appear together on any national flag. However, communism still controls around 20 percent of the world’s population. The USA is a nation of immigrants, many of whom came here to flee communism, Islamic theocracies and other forms of dictatorship.
The book “Flags of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley, tells the stories of the three survivors among the six who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945.
They were Marines Ira Hayes, a Native American of Arizona’s Pima tribe; Rene Gagnon, a French Canadian-American from New Hampshire; and Navy Corpsman Jack Bradley, the father of the author. These three traveled around the country doing re-enactments at rallies to get people to buy more war bonds.
“Flags of Our Fathers” later became a Clint Eastwood/Steven Spielberg film. After the war, a very troubled alcoholic, Hayes walked and hitchhiked 1,300 miles from the Gila River Reservation in Arizona to Texas to tell the family of Harlon Block that, despite official reports, it was their son among those who had raised the flag, and not someone else, as both had also later been killed in combat.
Our flag has no cross, no crescent moon, no star of David, no sword, nor chakra wheel. Our flag, a “work in progress” throughout our history, only has its original 13 stripes and now 50 stars. Our flag represents a land of religious freedom. It represents a country which has been, and still is, a magnet for immigrants, many of whom flee countries without tolerance toward other faiths.
A flag officer, Coast Guard Rear Adm. William D. Lee, spoke at a National Day of Prayer event on May 2. More recently he stated, “I’m not an activist, I’m not on a mission and I’m not going on offense. But I’ll go to the mat on defense, if required to, in order to fight for the religious freedoms we have under the Constitution.”
We opened with words from the hymn “Faith of Our Fathers.” We heard the story of McCain’s cellmate, Christian, and the flags he sewed in “Faith of My Fathers.” We heard the story of veterans of Iwo Jima from “Flags of Our Fathers.”
I would like to close with words from another hymn, our national hymn, “God of Our Fathers,” which is played at every presidential inauguration, complete with trumpets before each stanza.
As a veteran, its third stanza is especially meaningful to me: “From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, be thy strong arm, our ever sure defense. Thy true religion in our hearts increase; thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.”
Peace! For as Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “The soldier, above all others, prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”