Les Patterson’s Monday Morning Boost: “Old soldiers never die…”

  • Here's a photo I took in 2009 of M109A6 Howitzer of the 2/222nd Field Artillery, one of my former units, being driven in Richfield Fourth of July parade.

    They seemed quite old coming down the street that sultry Fourth of July morning. There were four of them, one with a noticeable limp, marching side-by-side. An awkward, out-of-practice cadence, kept them in step. 

    I was a young teenager that summer and anyone older than mom and dad seemed “quite old.” A casual observer may have wondered if the four veterans were too old to be laboring down the street. 

    I didn’t. 

    The American Flag leading the Fourth of July Parade is most always carried by veterans formed up as part of the VFW or American Legion. Growing up it was veterans of World War II. As time passed, the old soldiers of the Greatest Generation silently faded into obscurity. The solemn duty, always carried out with dignity and honor, was handed down to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam eras. Today, it may easily be veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

    My thoughts have been drawn back to the Dough Boys of World War I. I imagine at one point they were the veterans to carry the Flag leading the parade. The Great War, as many called it, started 102 years ago on June 28. It was meant to be the “war to end all wars.” 

    I’m not exactly sure why. 

    We’ll be in our hometown of Richfield for the Fourth of July. The parade is always one of my favorite parts. I love the floats, candy throwing, and marching bands. I love the old classic cars and trucks, the Lions Club purple bouncing car, and the shining red fire engines. I love the 4-H horse club, the Red View Riders, and the “pooper scoopers.” I love the beautiful city royalties and I even love the numerous politicians. My favorite float has always been the Howitzer (picture below) driven down Main Street by the Army National Guard. Driving and then being chief on one of these M109 Paladin Howitzers was my privilege during my military career. I even drove one in a parade a couple of times. 

    While I love everything about the Fourth of July, I love most of all standing for the Flag. While everyone stands when the Flag comes by the first time, there’s confusion as to whether we should stand on subsequent times the Flag passes by. I’ve been confused myself. 

    The US Flag Code doesn’t specifically address the issue. 

    "During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present except those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Aliens should stand at attention. The salute to the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes."

    After much reading over the years I discovered multiple opinions. Some feel we should salute the Flag every time it passes by. Others feel we should stand only when the Flag is presented as the Colors, meaning formerly carried by an honor guard. Most feel, and I tend to agree, we need only stand the first time the Flag is presented as the Colors and carried by the honor guard. 

    I have observed over the years many veterans tend to stand and render respect every time a formal presentation of the “Colors” passes before them. It may be habit carried over from their military days when they were on a military installation at 5 p.m. as the flag is being retired, protocol required they stop what they were doing, stand at attention facing the flag and stay that way until the ceremony is complete. A new law passed in 2008 and modified in 2009 authorized veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel to offer “hand-salutes during the national anthem by… [and] during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag.” 

    I invite you this Fourth of July to stand proudly when the Flag passes by. When you place your hand over your heart, take a moment to remember what Betsy Ross’ beautiful creation has come to represent. I also encourage you to look around for a veteran to thank. You’ll most likely be able to spot one wearing a military service hat. Or better yet, notice who stands for the Flag and salutes every time it passes by. The veterans, above all, understand the price that has been paid for those Colors to freely wave. 

    As Gene Autry and others have sung, and as Gen. Douglas MacArthur quoted in his farewell speech to congress, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” 

    Let’s do our part to make sure they don’t fade away into obscurity. 

    Have a great Monday! Thanks for letting me share. 

    Les Patterson 

    p.s. Take 15 minutes today to remember the great price paid that makes standing for the Flag an honor.