On Patriotism

I am a SUN Magazine subscriber, and the topic for July 2008 is "patriotism". The deadline for this topic was December 1st, 2007, and that has sadly past. But I thought it was such a good story that I wanted to share it with someone, you here you are...

On Patriotism

On the Fourth of July, 1994, I attended a fireworks display at Blakeslee Stadium, at Mankato State University. There were approximately 3500 people in the stadium bleachers and on the football field that evening, many of them fellow college students. People were spreading out blankets and listening to portable radios playing patriotic music. Announcers were on the loud speakers giving fireworks display readiness updates and hawking products. I was watching the activity at the southeastern end of the field where shadowy people were scrambling to get everything connected and in place, when the festive chatter in the crowd turned to dismayed murmurs and boos.

I looked out at midfield and saw some students spreading out what at first I thought was a patriotically colored blanket. But it kept getting bigger, and bigger. As the “blanket” unfolded on the ground, I realized that it was a huge American Flag. In that instant I also knew it had to be the flag that had been stolen from the local Perkins restaurant the previous weekend. The students who had brought the flag began stepping on it, and one student walked to the center and plopped down with a large cooler and began motioning for his friends to sit down. There was about ten of them, and they looked pretty intimidating, and serious. The crowd’s dismay quickly turned to outrage, with people standing up and yelling for the police—only yards away—to do something. “Arrest them! That is stolen property!” a man next to me was yelling. But no one moved. I just kept looking back and forth from the crowd to the students, fearing I was about to see my first riot, and hoping for someone official to stop it before it happened.

The crowd began to part on the other side of the stadium; I thought for sure an out-of-control man was busting his way through the crowd to take care of the situation in his own way. To my surprise it was a woman who was working her way down to the ramp, and then she dropped thought the handrails and onto the field. She stomped toward the students and started shaking her fist and pointing at the flag on the ground. She was obviously livid, and the students were easily intimidated by this mother from the masses and immediately began to move off of the flag. The lone student in the middle refused to get up. The middle-aged woman began to gather the flag in her arms until she had almost all of it, except the small portion the student was still sitting on. With a tug, she got it all, dumping the man onto the grass. The crowd waited. She stomped over to police officers who were standing just yards away, and shoved the flag into the arms of one of them. It was a surreal feeling, and I could almost hear the mosquitoes buzzing it seemed so quiet.

The crowd roared.

People were whistling, and yelling, “Thank you!” and “You ROCK!” We clapped and cheered for that woman until our hands were red and our eyes were wet. We clapped because she did something that no one else did that night. In front of several thousand people she had the courage and patriotism to stand up for something she believed in, and wasn’t willing to let anyone trample on it. Almost fifteen years later, I am still clapping.