I’m not the most patriotic person in the world.
I most certainly feel fortunate for my circumstances. I was born in a country that put me in a buffet line of civil liberties and economic prosperity not widely available in many other countries. Also, I recognize that I was afforded these luxuries by the work and sacrifice of those who came before me.
However, I also recognize that things are far from perfect. Anybody who claims otherwise doesn’t spend enough time on social media. In fact, I dare them to post the following: “There is nothing wrong in the world at this very moment.” The ensuing barrage of comments will illuminate several pet issues that one can adopt as your own.
Despite national imperfections, I stand for the national anthem. But I don’t do it for shallow platitudes. It’s more personal for me.
I will never judge or begrudge others for how they choose to spend their time during the national anthem. That’s their choice to make, not mine or yours.
I do so because it is my own personal time to remember my grandfather, Robert Stooksberry. In addition to being a World War II vet, Grandpa Bob was also a rancher in Oklahoma. I spent many a summer driving his beat-up Ford along the dirt roads of Granite, feeding cows and mending fences. Out of all of my grandparents, I spent the most time with him.
Much like most vets, it wasn’t until his later years that he opened up more about his experience with the war. And I’ll never forget sitting at his kitchen table while he went through old photos and memories about what he saw and remembered. One of those photos resides inside the case that contains his flag that was presented during his funeral. This photo and flag are proudly displayed in my living room.
Then, there was also my Great Uncle Raymond Dillahunty, who lived near my grandpa. He was also a vet.
He didn’t like to talk about the war as much, but he certainly liked to pull pranks. When I was about 6 years old, Raymond pulled the ultimate prank on me. He did that goofy finger trick—the one where it looks like you are pulling your finger off your hand. When most people returned the digit back to its original position, Raymond opened up his palm to show that his finger was missing. He quietly mumbled “Uh oh”, and commenced to look around on the floor as if he accidentally dropped it. I nearly tore apart the living room, upending furniture left and right in a failed attempt to recover the lost appendage. Unbeknownst to me, he lost it years before in an accident. And he had me do this for about a half an hour before I fully realized the con that transpired.
I also get to spend time with my Great Uncle Glen Berry. Out of all of the vets in my family, G.B.’s experience with the war was the most harrowing. He was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. For those who are familiar with the historical significance of this, I need not go into the atrocities committed during this event.
Despite the horrific nature of the story, G.B. rarely shied away from telling people about his experiences.
And I didn’t realize the full extent of storytelling until I went to college. During my sophomore year at Regis University, I was chatting with my favorite history professor about a new project that he was spearheading: a historical archive dedicated to documenting wartime memories, called The Center for the Study of War Experience. Since WWII veterans were dying off at a rapid rate, the need to preserve their stories was mission critical for this organization. Veterans were not only encouraged to be interviewed, but to also contribute to a popular seminar that allowed them to share their candid stories with a captive audience of students and history buffs. The class was so popular that it had to be moved to the largest auditorium on campus.
“We even have a vet who survived the Bataan Death March,” my professor bragged. “In fact, he was the winner of our ‘Best Dressed’ contest for our annual ball that we throw as a fundraiser for the Center.”
“Umm, is his name Glen by chance?” I asked.
What I hate about this “stand versus kneel” debate is the inherent tribalism involved. Somehow, saying that I choose to stand then automatically becomes a critique of those who choose otherwise.
I knew G.B.’s story, but—before that moment in my professor’s office—I didn’t realize he was already a “big man on campus.” Turns out, he was one of the original contributors to this project. Fortunately, I got the chance to see his presentation, where he calmly described the torture that he endured—all while dressed to the nines in his Air Force uniform.
This is what I think about when I stand during the national anthem. During the two to three minutes that this song is played, I think of shooting cans with a .22 in my Grandpa’s backyard, searching for a lost finger under my Uncle Raymond’s couch, and G.B. strutting his stuff at the annual ball while a Big Band plays in the background. This is my time with them, so I stand.
We all stand or not stand for varying reasons. It’s an individual choice—one that is backed by arguably the most important founding principle of our country: freedom of speech. I will never judge or begrudge others for how they choose to spend their time during the national anthem. That’s their choice to make, not mine or yours.
What I hate about this “stand versus kneel” debate is the inherent tribalism involved. Somehow, saying that I choose to stand then automatically becomes a critique of those who choose otherwise. This cheapens the entire experience for everybody, and I won’t stand for that—metaphorically speaking, of course.
In his piece “I Stand, Despite,” Ken White says it best: “I stand, but I support the people who don’t. In fact, when I stand, I mean to show that I support them.”
So even though I stand, I most certainly don’t stand for the exact same reasons you do. And any attempt to impose your reasons upon those who don’t stand actually belittles the reasons why I stand.
Do us all a favor: whether you stand or don’t stand, respect those who make the equal choice to not do the same as you. Don’t feel slighted by their choice; their action is not designed to disrespect you.
So when you hear “Oh say can you see?”, you go do your own thing, and I’ll go do mine. If you need me, I’ll be over here, hanging with Bob, Ray, and G.B.
Once the anthem is over and the last second of the game ticks away, then we can have a conversation about what needs to be fixed in our country. I guarantee that we have more pertinent issues to solve.