Driving north toward Knoxville on Highway 14 on Tuesday, Veterans Day in the morning, I noticed that Al Pearson out at the Williamson turnoff had turned his flag right side up. Al has been flying his flag upside down and at half mast since the election, expressing angst I suppose, so right side up though still at half mast was a decent gesture.
By rights, however, no matter how distressed one is about politics, it’s appropriate to honor those who have served, Republican and Democrat alike, by flying Old Glory at full staff on Nov. 11.
Surely we know the story by now. Originally Armistice Day, marking the official end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, Nov. 11 became a day to honor all veterans, both living and dead, in 1954. We celebrate the fact that those who died for us in our wars once lived and honor all others who served us, living and dead, in war and in peace.
Iowa officially honored all its veterans earlier this year with the opening of the Iowa Veterans Cemetery a few miles west of Des Moines at Van Meter. There, I guarantee you, there will be no manipulation of the flag that belongs to us all to make political statements.
It is a lovely and peaceful place, high atop a hill with busy Interstate 80 surprisingly silent at the base of its north boundary. I was surprised by that, expecting to be distracted at least a little by passing traffic. Instead, it seems appropriate and is moving to look out along this early row of graves toward the flag on the cemetery’s highest point, then beyond to the ribbon of highway stretching endlessly to the west beyond the Raccoon River valley.
The cast bronze eagle up top, donated by the Iowa National Guard Officers Auxiliary, stands near the entrance of the columbarium plaza at the cemetery.
The cemetery also is the site of Iowa's official memorial to its dead in the War on Terrorism, three polished black granite panels at the western edge of the hilltop. The central panel contains a laser engraving of a painting by David Rottinghaus of Nora Springs, inspired by North Iowa's own 1133rd Transportation Co., now undergoing final training before its second deployment to Iraq.
The painting struck a chord with many Iraq War veterans and families, especially those who have lost loved ones in the war, and now hangs in the State Capitol.
Another panel contains the names of Iowa's dead, including North Iowa's own Spc. Josh Knowles, of the 1133rd, killed during a mortar attack in Baghdad shortly after Christmas during the unit's first deployment, a death that many of us remember vividly.
I believe that about 180 interments already have taken place at the cemetery and that nearly 2,000 places have been reserved. A majority of the remains interred here to date have been placed in the columbarium plaza or a nearby area reserved for those who wish to have cremated remains buried instead.
There are only two buildings on the cemetery grounds. In the foreground is a glass-enclosed shelter where committal services are held and, in the background, the cemetery's administration and maintenance building.
Just outside the shelter is this bronze relief of hands holding a folded flag, a ceremonial gesture performed often here at this place where every day is Veterans Day.
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.
Michael Joncas, based upon Isaiah 40:31