Ray Duckler: Finding peace on the flag front is no easy task
To parents of fallen soldiers, the issue is quite simple.
In fact, they say, there shouldn’t be any issue at all.
What’s wrong, they ask state lawmakers who oppose their idea, with adopting a flag designed to honor Americans killed in war? And what’s wrong with flying that flag in front of government buildings, along with Old Glory and the POW/MIA flag?
Haven’t these men earned this distinction, to be represented by their own symbol, sharing it with no one else, a tribute for dying in the name of the United States?
“Yes, we have the American flag,” says Jean Durgin of Henniker. “But it does not stand for just the fallen.”
Durgin’s son, Russell, was killed in a remote area of Kunar province, Afghanistan, seven years ago. He died alone, at 23 years old, separated from his six-man sniper unit, killed just before nightfall.
Since then, Jean Durgin has openly questioned our military strategy in Iraq. She’s granted interviews to the media to spread the word about her son’s outgoing personality, always mindful of how easy it is for Americans, those not directly affected by war, to move on, to forget, to become apathetic.
Through the years, she’s cried, attended memorial services, then cried some more. Recently, though, Durgin has sought comfort through a growing chorus of voices created by a man named George Lutz, a 60-year-old Virginian who lost his son, Tony, in Fallujah, Iraq, eight years ago.
Tony was 25, killed by a sniper’s bullet.
Same as Russell.
Five years ago today, Lutz began to promote his Honor and Remember Flag, delivering personalized versions to families who’d lost someone in a war, covering World War II through Afghanistan.
“I wanted to know how this country showed their appreciation for a military hero who’d lost his life,” Lutz said last week by phone from Virginia. “That became my search as a grieving father, and as I went on that search, I found out we as a nation didn’t have any way to publicly recognize our fallen on a regular basis. How do we publicly shout from the house tops?”
Lutz cited bumper stickers and magnets and prayers for our troops and yellow ribbons tied out in front of homes. “But they are for the ones who are alive,” Lutz said. “They don’t include those who didn’t come home alive.”
His flag includes the eternal flame and a gold star and a small segment of the stars from the American flag. It includes tears and sorrow and a search for inner peace, something that people like Lutz and Durgin sometimes never find.
It does not, however, include the support of legislators such as Al Baldasaro of Londonderry and Frederick Rice of Hampton. They were part of the House committee that heard witnesses testify earlier this month that New Hampshire should join about a dozen other states in officially recognizing the Honor and Remember Flag.
The bill was retained in committee and may surface again later this year. But, as written, the flag has its detractors, lawmakers who are armed and ready with reasons why this is not a good idea.
Baldasaro’s words carry weight. He’s a former Marine, a disabled veteran and a member of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee. He respects the soldiers we’ve lost in war.
Yet he and Rice both worry about diluting messages conveyed by other flags.
“It’s a great idea to honor our fallen dead,” Baldasaro says. “But the American flag identifies the blood that we shed for the freedoms we earned. I think that’s enough, along with the Gold Stars Mothers symbol.”
Elsewhere, both expressed concerns over the business side of Lutz’s project, citing the $350 donations required for families of soldiers killed in battle to receive one of his personalized flags.
The two lawmakers insisted they were not charging Lutz with exploiting his son’s death, but their message was clear: They believe the price is too high, and they don’t want someone cornering the market on a product with such raw power and emotion attached to it.
In fact, Rice did not mince words, saying, “It’s a huge money-making operation. There are pictures of (Lutz) at an event, and he has a mobile home that has to be a $300,000, $400,000 mobile home. And his travel schedule shows he goes to virtually every NASCAR event. I don’t want to see the state endorsing an official flag that is copyrighted and sells for an exorbitant amount of money.”
Lutz is a retired marketing manager for a fast-food chain who readily admits that selling these flags is his new career. “It’s my sole focus,” he said. “It’s a (nonprofit) organization, a 501(c)(3). I’m able to garner something from it, but you do what you have to do.”
Meanwhile, parents like Durgin don’t concern themselves with such matters. Instead, they go to the Legislative Office Building and tell a committee why this flag is a good idea, important enough to receive official recognition from their state representatives.
They remind people about sacrifice, about lives changed, about dreams lost. They search for something called closure, suspicious that it’s an empty word, a string of letters that mean more to those who have not lost someone in battle than it does to them.
And they wonder why this tribute, while permitted privately, will not be part of any official tribute today.
On Memorial Day.
“We really don’t want this to be a battle in the newspaper,” Durgin said. “I don’t want to do battle at all. I just want someone to say, ‘Okay, let them have the flag.’ It doesn’t hurt anyone.”