I’ve watched him from a distance, in passing and close up. I’ve stood behind him at the post office, sat across the aisle from him at church and our paths have crossed at the gas station and the grocery store as well.
Yet I don’t know him...
Over many years I’ve noticed the two flags that fly from the large flag pole in his back yard. And because of those flags and the regularity they fly, I know a little something about him just the same, for he flies our country’s flag daily and below it the Marine Corps Standard.
So, this morning I make the effort to rise early and Madison my five year old Lab and I head out the door before the sun warms the pavement beneath our feet.
The air is brisk, and our pace is easy, down the long street around the corner and up to the top of the hill. It is a mile or so from my home where we finally stop and it is from this vantage point I can peer down the hill into his back yard.
The cold brushed aluminum flag pole now bare will soon spring to life, and right on time with purposeful steps the unknown solider walks out the door.
He is a man of some age, and so his walk is not as steady as I suspect it once was. On this morning as he’s done so many mornings before his hand reaches for halyard and he takes the brass clips in hand, then in one fluid movement the flag of our country is quickly hoisted to the top of the pole and unfurls in the chilly fall breeze.
He steps back and offers a proud salute and seconds later the Marine Corps Colors unfurl as well and with it another salute.
I watch as he turns heel smartly and walks towards the house but just before he disappears behind the door, he turns for one last look at the red white and blue that he proudly flies each day. And while he pauses, all time stands still.
Perhaps it is in this moment he reflects on his life, the friends and fellow Marines he left behind in some far away place and his war.
His war is unknown to me, but Korea I’d guess given his age, too young for World War II and too old for Viet Nam.
Korea, with names like Chosin, Inchon, and Hwachon with the 1st Marine Division or with the 5th Marines at outposts, nicknamed "Reno," "Vegas" and "Carson" where the marines held their ground despite heavy losses after Reno fell to the enemy. I don’t know him and Korea remains the often, forgotten war.
In the eleven years since I first posted this, many things have changed. The Marine is gone. The flag pole now stands bare as it greets the first light of day and remains a flagless sentinel in the yard each day until dusk. I don't know what became of the Marine, yet imagine he is doing well perhapes in a warmer latitude or gated retirement community somewhere.
I miss the flag, the Marine and his punctuality.