My family and I were rushing to our seats at a Tigers baseball game, late as usual. The concourse was busy with a sea of people hurrying one way or the other on their way to seats, food, or beer. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, I could hear a distinct melody in the background: the National Anthem.
I let go of my mother’s hand and I stopped in the middle of the rush of the concourse. I placed my left hand on my heart and searched for a flag to turn to. No one else stopped. They merely swerved around me. As a nine year old, I could not have been more confused. Aren’t you supposed to stop and stand for the national anthem? Remove your cap? Sing along and look at the gracefully waving flag? Soon, the singing of The Star Spangled Banner was over, and I started to move once again. An elderly woman had been watching me, and she came up to stop me before I got too far away. She told me how nice it was to see that I stopped to respect our nation. Yet again, I was puzzled. I had only done what I had always learned to do.
I moved along and found my slightly worried family further down the concourse. They were a bit upset with me. The feelings were mutual, however. Why did they not stop too?
I had all but forgotten this occasion until this summer. While interning in southern California, I made the acquaintance of several College Republicans. Knowing that I had little to do on the weekends, they offered to take me with them to volunteer at an event in San Diego. I eagerly accepted and set off with them to assist at a western-themed “Heroes Round Up” fundraiser for the Fairbanks Women’s Republicans Federated.
In attendance were veterans from every major American war since World War II. The announcer shared their moving war stories throughout the evening. We learned of how they earned with their blood, sweat, and tears the various medals hanging from their neatly pressed uniforms. There were soldiers from a nearby training camp that had been preparing for their deployment to Iraq at the event as well. Local politicians were in attendance, as were wealthy couples from the surrounding area.
To my surprise, when the anthem was sung near the end of the event, some people showed less respect than the people who rushed around me at the Tigers game many years before. I had always grown up with the impression that both men and women should remove their hat for the singing of the anthem. It was not even a question that everyone should stand as well. A woman nearby remained seated, her red cowboy hat still perched on her head. Many other men and women, even those sitting at tables with veterans, did not remove their hats. I distinctly remember one woman mentioning that her hair was a mess beneath her hat. Since when has style come before respecting one’s nation? Or personal laziness before standing beside your countrymen to honor America?
I can only imagine how disheartening this must have been to the veterans in attendance. They had risked so much and given their efforts to defend our nation and its beliefs. And now they stood in a room where others could not even properly show their respect? I felt even worse for the soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq. They, more than anyone in that room, needed to see that their acts would be appreciated. They were the ones soon to be facing battle.
How easily we forget the lessons learned in elementary school. Then, we did not question what we had been taught to respect and love. We knew what we had to do when the anthem was heard. Now, getting some beer at the ball game or refusing to muss up one’s hair at the “Heroes Round Up” takes priority to a love of country. It is such a shame when people forget, especially when our troops need us to remember.
Caitlin Poling is a senior from Grosse Ile, Michigan, majoring in Political Science,
International Studies, and French.