The opening ceremonies for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo are now over, and the games have begun. Although the Olympic and Paralympic Committee allowed athletes to kneel during Olympic trials, protests are banned during sporting events or awards in Tokyo. As the national anthem of the gold medal recipient is played at the awards presentation, it remains to be seen whether our usual unpatriotic diehards, such as members of the women’s U.S. Olympic soccer team (assuming they still place after an embarrassing loss to Sweden 3-0), will embarrass us by doing so while other foreign competitors honor their countries by standing proudly. These athletes will be denied a live self-glorification spotlight as Tokyo has decided not to broadcast their antics, leaving their supporters to search the internet for an anti-patriotism high. Although unlikely, it would be great to see violators stripped of their medals.
Having a great observation point for any occurring anti-American antics will be Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez, who passed away in 1998 at age 63. Despite the hardship of being raised as the Mexican American son of a sharecropper father, Benavidez did not let poverty, a lack of education or being orphaned at age 7 hold him back. He had every right to be bitter about the cards life had dealt him but, despite the hurdles he faced, he never resented an imperfect America. He wanted to make his own mark in life and chose to do so by wearing the uniform of a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. He would go on to demonstrate enormous patriotism both on and off the battlefield. Serving in Vietnam on May 2, 1968, through a series of courageous combat actions, he earned the Medal of Honor.
It is unfortunate any athletes demonstrating against our flag in Tokyo likely will not have heard a speech Benavidez gave in 1991 about patriotism and the flag. Its message is most appropriate today.
What he delivered was a parable, as a child given him by a nun, promising her he would share it with others, and memorizing it. The parable, delivered from the flag’s perspective, presents Old Glory trying to understand how, over the years, she has gone from a revered position of respect to one of disrepute.
Benavidez began with Old Glory making the query, “Hello. Remember me? Some people call me Old Glory; others call me the Star Spangled Banner. But whatever they call me, I am your flag – the flag of the United States of America. Something has been bothering me so I thought I’d talk it over with you, because it’s about me and you.”
The audience was captivated by the soldier’s heavily accented delivery. Benavidez continued with the flag’s lament:
“Not too long ago people were lining up on both sides of the street to see a parade go by and, naturally, I was leading that parade, proudly waving in the breeze. … What has happened now? I don’t feel as proud as I used to. … I see children around, playing, shouting. They don’t seem to know or care who I am or what I stand for. …
“I’m still the same ole flag. A few stars have been added since those parades of long ago. A lot of blood has been shed. Is it a sin to be patriotic anymore? Have you forgotten who I am? What I stand for and where I’ve been? Anzio, Guadalcanal, Korea and Vietnam. Take a good look one of these days at the memorial honor roll of all the names of all those that never came back. They gave their lives for this Great Nation to be free under God. When you salute me, you salute each and every one of them. …
“It won’t be long now that I’ll be coming down that street leading that parade and proudly waving in the breeze. So, when you see me coming, stand up straight and salute. And I’ll salute you by waving back. And then I’ll know that you remember.”
There is a hidden message in Old Glory’s soliloquy. Despite her age, despite her failure to always do the right thing, she has endeavored to represent the best of mankind as reflected by those who fought and died for her. Her journey has, at times, been troubled, but her moral compass, needing occasional adjustment, has always sought the right course. Thus, we should never lose sight that, regardless of what part of that journey is traveled, there have always been those who have died to fight to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today.
As Benavidez also shared, “There is a saying among us veterans that it is those who have fought for it that life has a special flavor the protected will never know. You have never lived until you have almost died. And it is us veterans, especially the wounded, that pray for peace most of all because we have to suffer the wounds of war.”
As far as those who, during times of war when their country needed them opted to leave rather than serve, Benavidez concludes, “How does it feel to enjoy freedom at the expense of my buddies’ lives?”
It perhaps is best Benavidez is no longer around to see the disrespect shown Old Glory today. Not only is kneeling now a pastime embraced by many professional and Olympic athletes who have sadly inspired college and high school athletes to follow suit, it is embraced as well by city councils eliminating the Pledge of Allegiance and by those opposed to legislation supporting patriotism in public schools because they believe it to be evil. The latter is particularly ironic as patriotism within the school system over a century ago helped put Flag Day on the road to becoming a national holiday.
As U.S. athletes receive their medals during the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, we should not be surprised to see some disrespect to our flag. But the real test of their integrity in protesting inequality will be if they decide to kneel during the anthems of other countries, such as China, which totally lacks any moral compass toward its minorities. Should these athletes kneel for China’s anthem, they can generate respect for the strength of their convictions; if not, they are simply grandstanding at America’s expense.
Master Sgt. Benavidez, please forgive them, for they know not what they do!
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