On the hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers,” Sen. John McCain chose a play on words when he titled his first book, “Faith of My Fathers.” While it tells the story of his grandfather and father, who were both admirals, we also learn about Mike Christian, one of McCain’s fellow prisoners of war in the Hanoi Hilton.
Mike Christian grew up poor near Selma, Ala. At age 17, he enlisted in the Navy, eventually becoming an officer. As a bomber-navigator, he was shot down over North Vietnam. He and McCain became cellmates. POWs could receive packages from home with handkerchiefs, scarves and other clothing items. From small scraps of such cloth, and a needle he fashioned from bamboo, Christian sewed together an American flag. Every afternoon, they would hang it on the wall of their cell and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. When North Vietnamese guards confiscated his flag, they beat him in front of his other cellmates, puncturing his eardrum and breaking several ribs. After being put back in the cell bleeding and nearly senseless, with his eyes nearly swollen shut, he picked up his needle and began sewing another flag!
Vietnam today is among five Communist countries remaining. We may have won the Cold War, when, at its peak, communism ruled one-third of humanity. The hammer and sickle no longer appears together on any national flag. However, communism still controls around 20 percent of the world’s population. The USA is a nation of immigrants, many of whom came here to flee communism, Islamic theocracies, and other forms of dictatorship.
The book, “Flags of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley, tells the stories of the three survivors among the six who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945. They were Marines Ira Hayes, a Native American of Arizona’s Pima tribe; Rene Gagnon, a French Canadian-American; and Navy Corpsman Jack Bradley, the father of the author. These three traveled around the country doing re-enactments at rallies to get people to buy more war bonds. “Flags of Our Fathers” later became a film. After the war, a troubled, alcoholic Ira Hayes walked and hitchhiked 1,300 miles from the Gila River Reservation in Arizona to Texas to tell the family of Harlon Block that, despite official reports, it was their son among those who had raised the flag, and not someone else, as both had also later been killed in combat.
Our flag has no cross, no crescent moon, no star of David, no sword, nor chakra wheel. Our flag, a “work in progress” throughout our history, only has its original 13 stripes and now 50 stars. Our flag represents a land of religious freedom. It represents a country which has been, and still is, a magnet for immigrants, many of whom flee countries without tolerance toward other faiths. A flag officer, Coast Guard Rear Adm. William D. Lee, spoke at a National Day of Prayer event on May 2. More recently he stated, “I’ll go to the mat on defense, if required to, in order to fight for the religious freedoms we have under the Constitution.”
Our national hymn, “God of Our Fathers,” is played at every presidential inauguration. As a veteran, its third stanza is especially meaningful to me: “From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, be Thy strong arm, our ever sure defense. Thy true religion in our hearts increase; Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.”
Nate LaMar serves as West Point recruiter for east-central and southeastern Indiana, and is president of Henry County Council.