Long May We Wave
by Ted Streuli
Flag Day was a month ago, but they’re hard to ignore around Independence Day. The state’s biggest Fourth of July parade is in Edmond, where about 125,000 people watch a Rockwell painting come to life as the marching bands all three Edmond high schools fill the air with John Philip Sousa, Shriners drive miniature cars, and Cub Scouts carry the biggest flag of all.
I’ve seen this show before, right down to the local politicos in convertibles and pageant queens in mock tiaras.
This year one man worked the sidewalks before the parade peddling small American flags for $1. Can anything be more American than that?
Early in the parade was a group of international students who attend UCO. They marched, or, really, walked, carrying the flags of their countries along with a U.S. flag and an Oklahoma flag. The symbols flew for Japan, Great Britain, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, France and Kurdistan. Some wore hijabs. They carried a red-white-and-blue banner that read, “Happy Birthday America” and “We love Oklahoma’s spirit!” As they walked the parade route they chanted birthday wishes to our country.
On Tuesday, Bill Moore presented the lunch program at Club 29, talking about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and the first person to set foot on the moon. Bill knows a lot of inside-NASA stories and a lot of inside-NASA people. Proving that Club 29 is made up of bona fide adults, no one asked what the astronauts ate or how they went to the bathroom. Consequently, there were no giggles. But someone did ask about the flag Buzz Aldrin (he gets to go first somewhere, doesn’t he?) and Neil Armstrong planted, the first flag of any nation to stand on a celestial body other than Earth.
All the scientists — and NASA has some pretty good ones — agree that the moon flags are in pretty bad shape by now or have disintegrated completely. They weren’t special — just 3-by-5 nylon flags from a catalog, the same sort of thing you’d have bought at Sears in 1969. Forty-plus years of ultraviolet radiation and temperature swings from -280 F at night to 240 F during the day take their toll (and you thought your porch flag was starting to fade).
Six American flags were set on the moon, one each from Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Japan, India, China,and the Soviet Union have flags there too, but I bet they haven’t held up any better than ours. We know that they’re all still standing thanks to photos of their shadows sent by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter — or they were in 2012, when the photos were taken.
All but one, that is. The Apollo 11 flag stood less than 24 hours; it got knocked over by the blast when Aldrin and Armstrong launched to meet the command module.
This week, too, I’ve been watching the women’s World Cup, and few sports have fans who can wave a flag the way soccer fans can. Fans and players both have a knack for wrapping themselves in patriotism.
My newfound appreciation of flags comes with my growing appreciation for Rotary. I am intrigued by the Rotary Friendship Exchange, as it seems that with 35,000 club and 1.2 million members in more than 200 countries there is a great opportunity to expand my own horizons, as well as those of Club 29.
When I first became a Rotarian in 1988 it was customary to exchange banners when visiting another club. Those collected banners represented the connections between members, between clubs and between nations that formed through Rotary. And whether we’re planting our flags on the moon, carrying them in a parade, or displaying them at a Rotary club meeting, the symbolism is the same: To borrow a piece of the Rotary mission statement, we advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace.