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October 31, 2010 10:03 PM

A Flag That Represents More Than Freedom

Washington, D.C.


Around 110 World War II veterans were able to go on the ninth Honor Flight last weekend. But, they weren't the only ones being honored.
An American flag protected by glass also made the trip, and for the veterans, it represents something much more than American pride.

A single picture can bring memories of a person back to life.

"We bring these photos of deceased veterans along and what we'll do is put it in a frame and put it up on the South Dakota pillar and flag just so they're with us," Honor Flight Organizer Rick Tupper said.

Honor Flight organizers carry along photos for the families who lost their World War II vet before they could experience Honor Flight.

"We want to remember everybody," Tupper said.

Because it's not possible to bring along every fallen hero's snapshot, the symbol of America comes along in their place.

"The flag symbolizes the great freedom of the U.S., of course," Bob Kusser said.

That symbol of freedom, protected in a glass box, goes along on every South Dakota Honor Flight.

"It travels with the committee," Kusser said. 

Kusser acts as the custodian for the fallen heroes flag on the ninth flight, which he considers an honor.

"My job was to bring it to the airport and allow the veterans as they went by to touch and remember their fallen heroes, comrades," Kusser said.

For the veterans, the red, white, and blue represents much more than just a symbol of freedom, but the sacrifices those they fought alongside had to make.

"It represents the people who have passed away," Harold Bauer said. 

That doesn't just mean World War II vets, but everyone who's given their life for their country and given meaning to the American flag.

"Not only WWII but the other conflict, wars.  We've lost military and people that they wanted to remember," Kusser said.

The American flag that's traveled all the way to D.C. represents every fallen hero across the country, but for these vets, it's giving them a chance to remember those they lost close to them.

"I have a cousin that gave his life in Korea, I think of him," WWII Vet said.

"I think about my friends that lost their lives," WWII Vet said.

"When they went by, they would touch it, one gentleman that wrapped the glass four times, he said, 'For four of my buddies I lost in war,'" Kusser said.

While not every veteran lays their hand across the glass, Kusser has no doubt the presence of the flag has significant meaning to them all.

“They all know someone who has fallen whether it's been during the war, at the battle they were involved with or very close friends or even family they've lost over the years," Kusser said.

But the flag isn't only a representation of freedom and loss.  In the reflection of the glass box, many veterans can also see their blessings folded in the flag.

"How lucky we are that we go to come home, and they didn't," WWII Vet said.

"We enjoy this, but they won't be able to.  It's something we should honor very greatly because they lost their lives, and we're here," WWII Vet said.

While they have made it through years of war, it's a reminder freedom isn't free.

"There is a price to pay, at times by someone who has to sacrifice," Kusser said.

Every time a flag floats in the wind, or is taken down and presented to the family of a fallen hero, that sacrifice will be remembered.

"We will never forget their service," Tupper said.

Or what they shaped the country to be.

"We're Americans," World War II vet said.

There is one more South Dakota Honor Flight scheduled for next month, but organizers have decided to take applications through December to determine if they'll send an encore flight in the spring.
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