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By Jim Byous
It is a petite, striped rectangle of fabric with a field of white stars on blue, six and one-quarter inches by four. As the grandkids play in the pool, while fireworks flash and crackle above I stare at the small emblem that represents so much to so many. I can feel a lump grow in the back of my throat as I study the thirteen alternating stripes, red, white, red, white and so on, ending at last with red. I count the stars of alternating rows, six, five, six and so on to combine in a uniformed rank and filed constellation of fifty. It is our flag… We the people of the United States. It is my flag. The flag of my family. We have been here since before the creation of this symbol. Over the years it has been an inspiration across the world for over two-hundred-forty years. Grandfathers, uncles, and cousins fought for, died for, and cherished this symbol of freedom long before I came upon the scene; before, “we” in “our” family.
William Byars, my fifth great-grandfather, died during the American Revolution. Of what, we do not know. He may have been killed in battle, he may have died of measles or mumps or another war-related illness, he may have fallen from a horse while trotting home after a night at the local tavern. We do not know… but… he died after protecting this symbol that I hold in my hands. His brother, Nathan, who served next to him, lived beyond the war. Moving from Virginia to South Carolina after the Revolution he bought and farmed a tract of land that had been the site of one of the most important battles of the conflict… a hilly, terraced plot of cleared woodland called Cowpens. He is buried there in a small family plot a few hundred yards from the location where American forces defeated Lt. Col. Banestre Tarleton of the British Army.
Though “Uncle” Nathan did not fight there, other members of our family did. Hugh Baskin, a fifth great-grandfather, and his brothers were there. Colonel Andrew Pickens, the husband of their cousin, Rebecca Calhoun Pickens lead their militia unit in an action that was imprecisely but proudly depicted in the movie, The Patriot. Another first cousin from another line, General Daniel Morgan lead the determined, rag-tag group of farmers, huntsmen and Continental regulars to victory. For my grandkids, through my wife Rebecca Harrison, the ancestral line of McCall’s was represented as was Cone lineages and the “Fighting Parson” that was also shown in the Mel Gibson film.
Each war afterward was represented by our families… ours and a great percentage of the current population of our nation. Our combined families built our nation. They fought for it, they worked for it, they voted for it and in many cases died for it. But, most importantly they shared it with the peoples of the world. Their beliefs in freedom created a system where those who did not have freedom, in the beginning, could, through the words of the constitution, gain liberty that was attainable in no other nation on earth before the Stars and Stripes existed. This is my country. This is our country. My family, your family, and many others throughout the past centuries. They gave it to us. Most importantly, they gave it to all here today; newcomers and those of original descent. This is OUR country now. It was purchased at a tremendous price… a price that dictates, implores and requires that we not squander it. Those who sacrificed would agree… if we remain true to the principles in which they believed. That’s what I believe.
So, happy Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day.
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