Veteran held memorable perspective as flag burned on Fourth of July

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When I think of the Fourth of July, I am always reminded of my childhood. I grew up in a small town in upper Michigan--Calumet to be exact. We had an Air Force base right outside of our town where my dad was stationed.

Every Fourth of July, our town would host a parade, town picnic and a fireworks show. The picnic included everyone's favorite events; from the watermelon seed spitting contest to the blueberry pie-eating contest.

However, all the town kids couldn't wait for the parade, particularly the "Bike Parade". Our town was full of veterans and the local VFW sponsored a $25 cash award to the kid whose bike had the most patriotic appeal. One year my bike was covered from the handlebars through the banana seat and right down to the spokes in red, white and blue crepe paper. I even replaced my fluorescent orange flag high above my rear wheel with an American flag.

I thought for sure I had the prize in the bag. Unfortunately that year we never held the contest. Right in the middle of the parade, a few college kids from the adjacent town decided to demonstrate. It started off tame at first, but culminated with the burning of our American flag.

I can remember seeing my grandpa and uncle and the looks of rage on their faces--you see, they both served.

But what I remember most was a man in a wheel chair and his son standing nearby. The son was furious, but trying to understand why his dad wasn't reacting. The more I watched, the more intrigued I became.

The son kept looking at his dad, confused as to why he wasn't mad. Finally, when the demonstrators moved on, the dad told his son to lean down and listen. He reminded his son that he lost his legs for that very reason--the rights of all Americans--to include the freedom to demonstrate.

After a few more minutes of explanation, the dad ended the conversation by reminding his son of what he learned in Boy Scouts the previous year. He asked his son, "How do you dispose of a worn or unserviceable American flag?"

The son quickly answered, "You burn it."

The dad then smiled and said "Son, the minute those kids touched the flag, it was desecrated. They were just doing their civic duty by burning it."