From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

The Aftermath

Flags were flying on every house down my block when I realized that my husband and I, who had recently bought our first home, didn’t have a flag of our own. Donating blood and money no longer felt like enough.

Immediately, I left on a quest to find an American flag to show my patriotic spirit. After starting up my ancient car, I headed to the local Kmart, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware and even some craft stores. Everywhere I was told the same thing: “We had flags this morning, but we’re sold out now. Come back next week, and we’ll have more flags.”

Next week? Somehow next week didn’t seem good enough for this fervent patriot.

I hurried back to my car to proceed to plan B—trying to buy a flag over the Internet. As I drove down the highway, I noticed that nearly every marquee announced, “God Bless America” or “United We Stand.” Cars passed me with flag stickers on the bumpers or small flags tied to antennas. Some cars even had flags draped over luggage racks.

This drive was unlike any other I had ever taken. I had known before that Americans were proud, but seeing so many flags today, displayed in such diverse ways, hit me differently than on any Fourth of July or President’s Day. This varied display of the nation’s colors spoke of unity, courage, determination.

As I stopped at a red light, I heard a familiar tune drifting from a breakfast shop that had opened its doors to welcome customers. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was blasting from a loud speaker.

“. . . O say does that star-spangled banner

Yet wave!

O’er the land of the free

And the home of the brave!”

A chill ran down my spine. Although I had heard the words a thousand times before, this day I truly appreciated how Francis Scott Key must have felt as he wrote them. What a welcome sight is the red, white and blue banner flying high. Even though the light had turned green, the cars around me didn’t speed off. The lady in the car next to me wiped her eyes and gave me a nod before proceeding on her way. Today, Americans were different, changed. The horror meant to divide us somehow did not. Instead, we were uniting through this tragedy, proud of our heritage.

When I got home I searched the Internet for Old Glory online. I surfed markets in other countries: China, Europe and Australia. Everywhere I searched notices were posted: “Seamstresses working overtime.” “Sorry for the delay.” “None currently available.” All over the world, the American flag supply seemed to have run out.

Still determined, I called family members and asked if they knew where I could find a flag. All were flying their own or didn’t know where new ones could be found. My mission seemed hopeless.

Hours passed.

Suddenly, a knock sounded on my door. My grandfather, Jim Pauline, a man who had served in the United States Army during World War II in the tank division at Normandy under General Patton, held out his hands. In them lay Old Glory.

“Thought you might want this,” Grandpa smiled. “Sorry it isn’t very big.”

I gave him a hug. Even if the flag was just a foot long, I didn’t care. The size of the flag couldn’t measure the love that I have for my country and for the family and friends who live within its borders.

I walked out into my yard and among the dozens that flew already, I added my very own treasured banner. It seemed a simple gesture, but the meaning was so profound it brought tears to my eyes. I used to think the flag was the symbol of our country, but I now know that what Congress decided on June 14, 1777, rings as true today as it did 224 years ago:

The stars represent each of the United States.

The blue field behind the stars stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The white stripes reflect purity and innocence.

The red stripes symbolize valor and courage.

The terrorist bombers may have murdered five thousand innocent Americans on September 11, 2001, but they couldn’t destroy our American spirit.

Approximately eighty-eight thousand flags were purchased in the days after the terrorist attacks—more than at any other time in history. My quest to find a flag wasn’t easy. I wasn’t alone in wanting to show pride for this beloved country. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

God bless America!

Michele Wallace Campanelli

By permission of Mike Luckovich and Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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