When the organizers of the USS Peleliu’s decommissioning wondered what to do with the ship’s flag, the answer was obvious. They sent it to Art Jackson.
It was a small gesture compared with what they had initially planned, offering to send a plane to fly Jackson and his wife to San Diego for the ceremony. They were flattered, but declined. At age 90, travel isn’t easy for him.
This is a week late — last Sunday was Flag Day — but Jackson’s service on the island of Peleliu and his thoughts on our flag are relevant any time.
For those unfamiliar with them, U.S. Navy ship decommissionings are stirring but sad ceremonies. Crew members join dignitaries in honoring the ships’ service, knowing that soon it will be scrapped and little will remain but souvenirs and memories.
The Peleliu was an amphibious assault ship. It was deployed 17 times, traveled over a million nautical miles and conducted more than 178,000 flight operations. It was decommissioned this spring after 35 years of service.
The ship was named for the Battle of Peleliu, one of the hardest fought of World War II. A Pacific island, Peleliu was held by Japanese soldiers entrenched in caves. Fighting for control of it lasted two months. When it was over, 1,800 Americans had been killed and 8,000 more wounded. Nine Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for their roles in the battle. Jackson was one of them.
Nineteen at the time, he saved his platoon from almost certain destruction. A book about the battle described him as “a one-man Marine Corps.” His Medal of Honor citation credits him with single-handedly confronting enemy barrages and contributing to “the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island.”
So he knows something about fighting for freedom, America and the flag — which has a special meaning for him. And he’s dismayed by the way the flag that he and so many others fought for is sometimes treated these days.
The flag at the old U.S. Assay office at 2nd and Main, for example.
“It doesn’t have a light, they don’t take it down at night and they leave it out in all kinds of weather,” he said. “That’s not the way the flag should be treated.”
I went to the former assay office, now the State Historic Preservation Office, for a look Monday evening. There was no light, and the flag was still up well after dark.
I spoke with the preservation office’s Tricia Canaday, who said a solar-powered light is supposed to illuminate the flag but apparently has malfunctioned.
“We didn’t know until you called because we leave work during daylight at this time of year. We’ve notified maintenance, and until it’s fixed the flag will be taken down at night.”
Jackson and his wife sent a note to a bank that was neglecting its flag. Nothing changed.
Once in a while, however, someone listens. When the Idaho Fish and Game Department was notified that the flag at its office in East Boise was in bad shape, it had a new flag installed with a light to show it off at night — as required by regulations.
And the Jacksons can’t say enough about Dillabaugh’s flooring store on Federal Way.
“They have a great big flag, and they take good care of it,” Art said. “They take it down on weekends and light it at night. It’s beautiful.”
But for every flag that’s treated well, he says, many more are neglected: “You see flags that are in terrible shape because they’re never taken down and left out in bad weather. A lot of people died for that flag. And lot of people today, especially young people, don’t seem to appreciate it. It isn’t right, but I don’t know what can be done about it.”
One thing might be to teach respect for the flag in schools — a few minutes each year devoted to what the flag symbolizes and how it should be treated.
For those who don’t know the rules or have forgotten them, these are the highlights, condensed from the U.S. Code:
• Flags should be displayed on buildings and flagpoles from sunrise to sunset only. They may be displayed at night only if properly illuminated.
• Flags should be taken down during bad weather unless they’re all-weather flags.
• Flags may be flown every day, but especially on holidays and other special occasions. For the complete list, Google U.S. Code, flag regulations.
• Flags should be displayed at or near polling places on election days and in or near schools on school days.
• The flag never should be displayed upside down except as an emergency signal and should never touch the ground.
Those are the main rules to remember. There are others for every imaginable situation, but they all come down to one thing: respect.
“The flag represents our freedom, our courage and our national pride,” Jackson said. “We should treat it accordingly.”
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.