My Fathers Flag ~ Since September, It Proudly Flies
by Pat Harder
Until September 22, a flag sat on a shelf in our family room in its plastic cover. For nine years, it remained in the traditional triangular shape into which it was ceremoniously folded as it was removed from my fathers casket.
My father, Norman David Tuohey Sr., grew up in Cabin John, just outside of Washington, DC. When World War II broke out, he joined the Army-Air Corps, now known as the Air Force. He was 36 years old and considered an old man in a young mans war. He had to sign waivers to get into gunnery school. Once graduated, he was sent to England with the 8th Air Force Division of the European Theater. He was a flight engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17 bomber. He flew bombing missions over the English Channel and the North Sea into Germany. He was proud to tell everyone that actor Jimmy Stewart was his Group Commander, though they never flew together.
The crew and plane were first shot down in the English Channel, from which they were safely rescued. The second time, they were shot down in the winter, and they spent two days and two nights in a life raft in the freezing waters of the North Sea. When my father was rescued, he spent 10 months in an English hospital before he was given a medical discharge. Once back on American soil, he said he would never leave it again, nor would he ever get on another airplane. He remained true to his word.
My father lived to be 86 years old. He told the stories of the war to all who would listen, and they were repeated many times. He had his book written in his mind and read it to us page by page. I wish I had listened more carefully.
On September 11, we all watched in disbelief as foreign terrorists turned commercial airplanes into weapons killing thousands of civilians. In our vulnerability, we went to our closets, attics or to the nearest store to find the one thing that would display our unity in the face of unknown danger, the American flag. Flags now fly daily on cars, trucks and buildings as a declaration to all the world that the USA is free and will fight to remain free. Seeing their flags, I feel a renewed connection to my neighbors, friends, family and fellow road travelers.
I took my fathers flag from the shelf and unzipped the cover. I just wanted to run my hand across the stars and feel the stripes in the fabric. Taking the triangle in my hand, I carefully and gently unfolded it. The 12-inch triangle grew into a 10-foot-by-four-foot burst of red, white and blue glory.
This is the flag I wanted to fly, but Id never been able to decide if doing so would honor or dishonor him. My mother, Sadie Viola Tuohey, taught me to keep precious gifts to pass on to the next generation. She called it saving it for good. Much good was found in boxes, drawers and cabinets at her death 12 years ago. Many things I had never seen before had no meaning to me.
In reflecting on those hours of deciding what to do with her collection for the next generation, I knew that I must fly my fathers flag. It should be shared now with my family and with all those who pass by in this time of renewed patriotism.
Standing in my yard looking at the symbol that represents this great country where I am privileged and honored to live, my right hand goes over my heart as it did for 12 years of my school life standing next to my desk each morning and pledging my allegiance. That oath of loyalty honors my father for his sacrifices. It honors todays men and women in uniform for their continued sacrifices as they fight to keep this country safe and free as well all the firefighters, policemen and civilians who attend us here at home.
My fathers flag now flies in honor, giving thanks.
Pat Harder reflects from near Galesville, where she lives with her husband. A retired businesswoman, she continues to search for things of interest to keep her mind, body and spirit in sync with the world.