From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Bring Us a Flag

I was involved in a radio contest, which involved twelve contestants living at the state fairgrounds for two weeks in Survivor-like conditions: no electronics, little sleep and competitions every day. The contest took place from September 7 to the 21st. Each day a contest member was voted out. The contest prize was ten thousand dollars for the last person left.

There I was, locked up in a thirty-by-thirty-foot cage, playing a silly game that had all of a sudden lost all meaning. The only information we had was from radio news reports heard on the pop station that was running the contest. The only pictures we could see were the ones my lovely wife showed us as she held up a newspaper to the fence. Six of us lived in our little camp, but at that moment we felt alone. My tribemates and I considered walking out and ending the contest. All we could think of was holding our loved ones.

Each day we were interviewed on the radio and shared our thoughts and feelings. Speaking for all of us, one of my tribemates, Jim Severn, made a plea to those listening to bring us a flag. We felt at that time that we needed to see an American flag—nothing else seemed real.

Later that same morning we heard a woman on the radio say she was sending her husband to our camp with a very special flag. She spoke of her grandfather who had been at Pearl Harbor. During the attack, he was responsible for saving many lives. His commander had been so impressed and inspired by this man’s actions that he gave him one of the flags from the ruins of Pearl Harbor. His granddaughter now wanted us to have this flag because she was so touched by our simple request.

An hour later we watched as a man walked towards us. In one hand was the flag, holding the other was his son who looked no older than five or six. The pride he felt as he attached the flag to our fence was overpowering. As he finished displaying the flag the most magical thing happened. Where there was once no wind, all of a sudden the flag began to wave as a flag should. At that same moment, the radio began to play “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan. Her words touched all of us deeply.

Something else magical happened. While the flag was waving proudly, the leaves on the nearby trees were still. It was as if there was a spirit inside this flag causing it to move. Without saying one word during the entire song, we all shared the same thoughts and not a dry eye was to be found.

When we first heard the news of the terrorist attacks we wanted to walk out. When we felt the power of that one flag we wanted to stay and stand strong. By the end of the competition you could hardly see through our fence: It was covered with flags, streamers and decorations brought to us by young and old. People made special trips to visit us and see our flag. Each person expressed the same feelings we had felt as they gazed upon it.

Years from now, people will ask me where I was when the tragedy happened. I will tell them that I was surrounded, not by a chain-link fence, but by the love and patriotism of unfamiliar faces who became a family I will always be part of.

Jon Sternoff

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