The American flag represents the freedoms we hold dear. When we were children, my brother and I were taught to stand and put our hands over our hearts for the American Flag when it came by in a parade. We said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. And we stood to sing the National Anthem.
Our parents modeled these important traditions. So did others in our small town of Delavan, Wisconsin. One of them was Clare Condon. Mr. Condon was a retired engineer and a member of our church. He was also a veteran of World War I and World War II.
As our Assistant Scoutmaster and leader at the local American Legion Post, Mr. Condon would get us children to put flags on the graves of all the veterans at our local cemetery. He had us pick up the empty shells after the 21-gun salute on Memorial Day. And he taught us reverence for those who had died for what the flag represents.
Mr. Condon and others in our America Legion Post encouraged me to attend Badger Boys State. The veterans and staff involved in that program selected me to go to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. It was that program that sparked my interest in public service and my love for our country.
Patriotism was not a political issue when we were young. Respect for the flag was consistent across economic, racial, religious, and geographic categories.
So how did it change?
President Ronald Reagan raised concerns in his farewell address from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989. He warned about going into the nineties as he said, “Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.”
He continued with a basic charge: “Let’s start with some basics: More attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.” Imagine if most people had acted on his warning more than 33 years ago?
Still, I have hope. Tonette and I just saw “Top Gun: Maverick” and we loved it. The movie was a massive box-office hit on its opening weekend—ranking as the biggest Memorial Day Weekend opening in history.
Military.com notes that “CinemaScore polls moviegoers as they leave theaters on opening weekend, and ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ earned an A+ rating, an incredibly rare achievement for movies with an opening weekend box office over $100 million. Combine that with a 97% Certified Fresh rating from critics on RottenTomatoes.com, and the movie seems set for a long and successful stay in theaters.”
The fact that a patriotic movie, where members of the U.S. Armed Forces are on the side of good fighting against those who are evil, can do so well at the box office is an optimistic sign. The movie is filled with strong men and women and is unapologetic about loving America. It gives me hope for the future.
The original “Top Gun” movie came out in the 1980s—during the middle of the Reagan Administration. Prior to the election of President Ronald Reagan, our country was in a malaise. Americans were suffering through stagnation with high gas and food prices and an unsteady economy. The U.S. was viewed as weak in the world as Iran held 52 of our citizens hostage for 444 days.
Ironically, the hostages were released just as Ronald Reagan was taking the oath of office as our 40th President. Turning the economy around took more time, but enacting the largest tax cuts in history and rolling back excessive government regulation helped lead to one of our longest periods of economic growth. Just like the 1984 Reagan/Bush re-election campaign suggested, it was morning in America.
Last week, we celebrated Flag Day. It is a tradition that started in Waubeka, Wisconsin. What a wonderful way to think about the flag and all that it stands for.
On the same day, we celebrated the 247th birthday of the U.S. Army. Think of all who have served over the years. Think of the sacrifice of their families. And think of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many of our heroes. We live in the land of the free because of the brave.
This is why I am honored to work with Young America’s Foundation. We promote an unambivalent appreciation of America. We understand that the biggest threat to our freedoms may not be from foreign enemies, but from those embracing socialism and Communism from within our country.
We still have plenty of work to do to save our beloved nation. We can start by waving the American flag and thanking God for those in uniform who protect our freedoms every day. God bless the U.S.A.!
• Scott Walker is the president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.