The morning sun lurked in the shadows of the eastern sky as I trudged up the long hill to the U.S. military post at Heilbronn, Germany.
I was late in spite of a pre-dawn departure for my destination. My mind pored over the agenda of those in a meeting waiting impatiently for my arrival. Though the summer breeze pressed the fragrance of waking blossoms into my path and under my nose, I had no time to take notice.
The ascent of the hill and my need for more time made the long morning walk seem endless. It was a local holiday of some sort, and the bus system paid homage to the honored event of bygone years, leaving me stranded in my impatience. It seemed that all forces opposed me on what would have otherwise been a laid-back and enjoyable morning stroll. Lost in my frustrations, I almost walked past security at the post without stopping to register my visit.
“Hold it, sir,” an imposing voice rang out. “This is a secure facility. You must report your intended destination on post and the reason for your visit before entering.”
I had a pre-approved post entrance pass in my wallet, which I presented to the MP, but he informed me that due to recent terrorist activity in the area, I would still be required to register my presence. It was futile to resist, and I assumed correctly that he had authority to enforce his directive with the M-16 slung loosely over his right shoulder. With a deep sigh, I turned and headed for the guard office as directed.
Inside the office, I took a number from the machine on the wall and waited for my turn. With no other choice, I let my mind wander to other matters. I had not been home for almost 18 months, and my current assignment would not conclude for yet six more. Though I had contact with my family and friends through the mail, I had not spoken with them since the prior Christmas holiday. In those days, the Internet and “email” were not yet a dream in a genius mind. The thought occurred to me that if I died, no one back home would even know for a week. In that moment, I was deeply homesick for familiar faces, places and customs.
My number was called, breaking the despondency that had so quickly settled upon me in that place so far from home in a foreign land. The urgency of my schedule again pressed forward. My credentials were in order. The approval was given, and I hurried out the door toward my scheduled appointment, but the melancholy of the lonely moment lingered with me.
Turning a familiar corner, the first ray of the morning sun glinted in my eyes, and suddenly all movement around me came to an abrupt halt. Cars pulled to the curb. Pedestrian traffic stopped in its tracks. Even the buzz of bees seemed to still.
On precise cue, without respect to any outward circumstance, the world paused as a lone bugler snapped to attention and began to play “Post the Colors.” Looking up from the sidewalk, I saw three young soldiers in full dress uniform and white gloved hands carefully unfold the Stars and Stripes, attach its golden clips to a nylon rope and methodically unfurl the flag of the United States of America into the morning breeze.
As the glorious red, white and blue colors neared the top of the staff, as if on cue, a gust of wind caught the banner and thrust it to the radiant rays of the new day. The last notes of the bugle echoed across the compound and faded into a moment of silence.
In that precious stillness, my heart throbbed with the comfort of home and gratitude for the heritage of my birth. The annoying pressure of my business surrendered to the magnitude of things greater than me. Cemented in my soul was the unity I held with all those around me who still called America the land of the free and the home of the brave. The ageless words of Francis Scott Key filled my mind.
Oh! Thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved homes and the wars desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
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And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Although it happens on U.S. military sites every day, never will I witness the passing of our national banner without remembering that morning and the resounding silence, awe and majesty when our world stopped to pay homage to home, family, valor and honor — and those who stand firm to preserve it.
Ed Smith is a freelance writer, golfer and fly fisherman. He resides in West Bountiful. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org