Two young boys walked down the steps of the elementary school. One held a folded American flag in both hands. He was very careful as he walked; not wanting to tilt the triangle-shaped flag up or down, instead wanting it to stay even…level. The other boy stayed beside him, watching his friend’s every move.
They walked in silence.
The Marine Battalion made its way through the canyon, the tall rising mountains casting a dark shadow on them as they marched through the rough terrain. The mission to feed the Afghani civilians had been a complete success, for the people of the small village as well as for the boys in uniform. After all they had been through, what a privilege it was to see some smiles for a change.
The boys stopped short of the concrete circle that surrounded the flagpole and stood perfectly still. The one that wasn’t holding the flag took three steps toward the pole. With careful concentration he began to slowly unwrap the rope from the two ‘hooks’ that protruded out at the bottom of the pole.
He was the first one to reach the Landing Zone. He set his gear down and looked behind him, waving to the rest of the troops, giving the ‘ok’ sign. Leading had become a habit with this soldier. He didn’t consider himself a leader; it just came naturally. Truth be told, in the beginning his quiet and shy ways had kept him from some of the livelier conversations between the Marines in the battalion, but soon his reserve and quietness translated to the others as a sign of maturity, and he became the one they all turned to. The one they all trusted. The one they all respected.
The rope hung loosely, free from the confinements of the pole. It swayed back and forth in the morning wind. The young boy with the flag held his outstretched arms to his friend, and with quiet solemnity, they began to unfold Old Glory. Neither had spoken since the ritual had begun.
The entire battalion made it safely to the Landing Zone just as the gunfire erupted…
The boys were careful not to let the flag touch the ground, and with an experience and soberness that the most patriotic U.S. citizen would applaud, they completely unfolded the flag, keeping it straight and wrinkle free as they did so.
He hit the ground as soon as the gunfire began, all the while checking the position of the rest of the battalion. He saw that they had spread out in formation, their weapons on shoulder and in firing position. In unison, and with the precision of a well-oiled machine, they returned fire…
The boy that had carried the flag from the school now had it at the end where the red and white stripes stretched out into infinity. His fingers became part of the flag, part of the tradition…part of the honor. His friend hooked the other end of the flag onto the rope. Once intact, the boy with the rope began to pull the flag up…up and away. And slowly the other boy let go of his end of the flag, and they both watched as it rose into the spacious blue sky.
In a matter of minutes the enemy was defeated. Once the smoke cleared, the soldier got up and looked around, making sure that everyone was all right. He watched with pride as all the men made their way back to the Landing Zone. He looked at each one, their names registering in his mind as he watched them walk. It wasn’t until he let himself relax that he looked down and saw the blood on his own uniform.
Once the flag was in its proper position at the top of the pole; the boy with the rope started the task of wrapping it around the flagpole. Around and around the rope went, as both boys looked on.
In the moments following the battle, the battalion became one as they realized they were losing their leader. Frantically they did their best to save him, until they finally gave in to the inevitable. One Marine held him in his lap and propped his head up so that everyone in the group could say goodbye. One by one they took their turn as he lay on the hard sand. Some put their arms around him. Some whispered to him, making promises of telling others of his bravery and courage. One prayed. Another quoted scripture.
The Marine smiled, and then slowly…his eyes closed.
The sound of helicopters approaching could be heard in the distance.
This was their favorite part of the whole ceremony. The part where they watched in awe as the American flag waved proudly in the morning sky. The stood side by side and in silence for almost another full five minutes. And then the two boys did what they did every day when they were given this responsibility…
This story is from the imagination of the author. It was, however, inspired by the life (and death) of Marine Lance Cpl. Phillip George.
Phillip (22, of Houston, Texas) died from enemy small arms fire while conducting combat operations near Taleban, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He died on August 18, 2005.
His company of Marines was deployed to Afghanistan on a dual mission…delivering food and water to Afghani civilians and to chase al-Quaeda out of the mountains.
After they had finished taking the food and water to some children, they were waiting at the Landing Zone to be picked up by helicopters when they were attacked.
One marine was killed on that day – Marine Lance Cpl. Phillip George.
Amazing juxtaposition between the young boys and the soldiers. A wonderful way to give honor to all in this story. It was just beautiful, David. Touching and solemn, yet filled me with pride for my country and those who give their lives for it.