The timing of the two events is significant, occurring on exactly the same day, with one event disrespecting Old Glory, the other rendering the respect it is due.
On June 26, placing third in the Olympic Trials’ hammer throwing competition, Gwen Berry chose to disrespect the American flag and national anthem at the awards ceremony, turning away from it while the first and second place winners respectfully faced it with hand over heart.
An African-American equal rights activist, Berry’s disrespect came the same day a young Marine sergeant, whose life lasted only two-thirds as long as Berry’s 32 years, was carried to his final resting place – honored with an American flag draped over his coffin – 78 years after his death. He was killed in one of the bloodiest World War II battles, fighting the Japanese on an atoll in the Pacific known as Tarawa.
In 1943, Sgt. Donald D. Stoddard, 21, had been buried in a mass grave, where he would have been long forgotten had it not been for the nonprofit group History Flight. This group was established in 2003, dedicated to researching, recovering and repatriating America’s dead from battlefields of World War II, Korea and Vietnam – returning their remains to U.S. soil for proper burial.
Obviously, it was Stoddard’s death, along with approximately 417,000 other Americans who died while fighting and defeating both the Japanese and Germans, that laid the groundwork for future generations – such as Berry’s – to continue enjoying freedoms for which much blood had been shed.
Berry explains her rationale for disrespecting the flag, “If you know your history, you know the full song of the national anthem. The third paragraph speaks to slaves in America – our blood being slain … all over the floor. It’s disrespectful, and it does not speak for black Americans.” Apparently, Berry failed to do her homework as historians have previously debunked her claim. She bases it on the line in the anthem’s third verse – “Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution” – as a disrespectful reference to the blood of slaves. However, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian explained it is actually a reference to the American soil being polluted by a British presence.
While the America Berry represented at the Olympic Trials is not perfect, neither was the one for which Stoddard died. But it is undeniable vast improvements had occurred during the intervening 78 years, allowing Berry to represent a greatly improved, racial equality-active America.
America has long been recognized as a mixing bowl of races and cultures. History shows us, at times, that mix has been volatile, requiring time to work out issues of inequality. How far we have come in recognizing equality for all is clearly evidenced by the right of activists, like Berry, to condemn America for past transgressions and for perceived – rightly or wrongly – current transgressions by disrespecting our flag and our anthem.
Human-rights evolution has taken us from a nation claiming, but not observing, equality for all to one that continues to fight vigorously to ensure it is observed. Many people died or otherwise suffered to get where we are today. Sadly, racial hatred, regardless of whom it targets, will never be fully eradicated from society. But it is ignorant to believe the vast majority of Americans today do not embrace racial equality.
As America strives to provide equality for all, just as we will never eradicate society of all racists, neither will we ever eradicate it of the snowflake malcontents seeking to raise the claim of victimhood, either to be divisive or for personal gain, by denigrating our flag and national anthem. Those who do are a far cry from representing America’s backbone – the Americans who helped build our country over the centuries, improving upon it as needed.
This year’s Independence Day brought snowflake malcontents out in record numbers. They included author and podcaster Toure Neblett claiming, “F*** Fourth of July” as the only such day he recognizes is Juneteenth; or National Public Radio reading the Declaration of Independence only to add a commentary that it is a racist piece of our history; or a Washington Post reporter claiming the Statue of Liberty is a “meaningless symbol of hypocrisy” and “unfulfilled promise”; or President Joe Biden supporting Berry’s disrespect; or Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., saying only white people are free and the U.S. is built on stolen land; or Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., criticizing the Declaration of Independence as racist.
For centuries, America has been a bailment that each successive generation accepted “as is,” but with a qualifier mandating they improve upon it. This bailment process began immediately after the American Revolution ended in 1781 when a nation initially ruled by the Articles of Confederation clearly needed to establish a more perfect union. It would take six more years for our Founding Fathers to agree upon the U.S. Constitution – the intent of which, “In order to form a more perfect union,” was set forth in the document’s preamble,
But our Founding Fathers in no way naively believed the document they created was an end-all solution. That is why it has been amended from time to time in an effort to continuously move us in the direction of a more perfect union. And moving in that direction calls for every American to work within the framework of the Constitution and our existing laws to do so. It means accepting our past – warts and all – for what it is, extracting lessons learned, and accepting the flag under which those deeds were committed. One of the greatest abolitionists in our history, former slave Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), worked tirelessly within this framework to help rid the nation of slavery, continuing America’s push forward toward total equality.
As Berry was disrespecting our flag on June 26, military pallbearers smartly folded the flag on Stoddard’s coffin to present to surviving family members. The funeral was held at Mountain View Memorial Park in Boulder, Colorado, where, 78 years earlier, the family had purchased a plot and headstone in hopes Stoddard’s remains would be found and returned home. His family had never given up hope a grateful America would do so. Meanwhile, an ungrateful Berry, perhaps hopeful of gaining a corporate sponsor for her lack of patriotism as did professional quarterback Colin Kaepernick with Nike for his, selfishly asks what America done for her, denigrating the flag Stoddard died defending.
In honoring America on that day, June 26, to quote the opening line of the 1859 Charles Dickens novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” In this tale of two Americans, there should be no question as to who represents which time.
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