Judge Bryant guest speaker at flag ceremony

OKEECHOBEE — Judge Jerald Bryant was the guest speaker at the Sept. 11, 2015, Patriots Day ceremony at Gilbert Ford in Okeechobee. The ceremony included the dedication of a new flag pole and flag at the dealership on U.S. 441.

Judge Bryant’s speech is below:

Good afternoon.

I want to again thank the Culbreth family, Gil, Marie, Christa, and Bert, for giving me the opportunity to speak about a subject that is very special to me … special to me as a former Marine and as an American, but also because I am one of the millions and millions of beneficiaries of all that our flag represents. I also want to thank them for honoring our veterans and first responders today. No other day could be more fitting to do that.

Judge Bryant, guest speaker.

Judge Bryant, guest speaker.

This is the second flag dedicated by this family in two months. The first was very special. It was the first to be raised along this highway that is large enough to catch the eye of everyone heading toward our most popular and greatest asset, Lake Okeechobee.

That’s OUR American flag!

Since that first flag was raised in July, I have walked several days on the dike surrounding our lake and have enjoyed a special feeling in my chest as I looked to the north and saw that flag flying high above the landscape. There is just something about a large flag as it begins to unfurl, then catches a good wind and waves gracefully in the sky.

Every time I see that, I rekindle my gratitude for all that has happened throughout the history of our flag … and for the Culbreth family for giving this local symbol to us.

Today is especially important to us as Americans, and we could not have a more fitting day to dedicate this flag. Fourteen (14) years ago today, the peace and security of our nation was disrupted — for the first time on our soil since 1941 and only the second since more than a century before that – in a brutal attack by 19 murdering followers of a mad Islamist … set on destroying our nation and the will and resolve of our people.

That day in 2001, 2,977 people lost their lives. These include 2,753 lives from the two flights striking the World Trade Center… including 343 FDNY firefighters and 60 officers of the NYPD and Port Authority Police — first responders who ran TO the explosions and not AWAY FROM them; it also includes 184 lives from the flight that struck the Pentagon; and in the field in Shanksville, PA, 40 more lives aboard United Airlines Flight 93. You recall the final brave words of the passengers on that flight “Let’s roll!” as they tried to overpower their highjackers.

Three thousand innocent lives! Lost in an attack carried out by 19 non-military men armed with box cutters, but dead set on destroying us.

Compare that to the attack on Pearl Harbor, where 2,500 lives were lost in the attack carried out by nearly an entire navy and air force of a powerful nation. Our sense of safety and security was justifiably shaken by the fall of those twin towers!

As an aside, I would like to share this. My son, Jesse, was only 11 years old when the World Trade Center towers fell. But he took a keen interest in the story as it played out … he read every newspaper article and watched the nightly news reports for months, as many of us grown-ups did. For a young child, he was uniquely involved with this story.

Eight months after the attack, they announced that they would be ending the World Trade Center recovery effort with a ceremony in May 2002. This, to me, was to be historical. And I felt that Jesse should be allowed to witness it first-hand, considering his deep interest in it. I quickly booked a flight and hotel room for Jesse and me to travel to New York for this event.

The day before the ceremony, we took the subway to the closest station we could get to Ground Zero, then walked to the site. From an overlook platform on the edge of the pit, we could see what was left of the devastation and how the workers were scurrying to ready the site for the ceremony. A scene we will remember always.

We also saw thousands of messages left on a plywood wall erected for such sentiments, left by some of the millions of caring people from all over the world who visited that site.

The next day, we, along with thousands of others, stood solemnly as honor guards of firefighters and police, bands, pipers and others accompanied the flatbed truck carrying the last 50-ton steel column – draped in black – and an ambulance carrying an empty stretcher … covered with what? … an American flag … out of the pit. The empty stretcher symbolized the many who perished but whose remains would never be recovered.

Our American flag!

And at the memorials to each of these 3 sites, you will find our American flag.
We named September 11 “Patriots Day” and honor those 3,000 lives each year with a ceremony of remembrance. We fly flags and say things like “We will never forget.”

In just a few moments, we will raise this beautiful new flag. Again, the Culbreth family has chosen a large flag – 13 by 25 feet – one large enough to be seen for a mile and high enough to arouse our national spirit.

But today’s ceremony will be even more solemn than the last. In keeping with Patriots Day, we will honor the lives lost on this day 14 years ago by lowering the flag to half staff.

Why do we do this?

We often hear the term half-staff or half-mast used interchangeably. But technically, half-mast only applies aboard ship, where there is commonly a mast. On land, the proper term is half-staff.

The origin of our tradition of flying our flag at half-staff is not clear. But the first record of the lowering of a flag is in 1612. A British ship’s captain on an expedition to find the North West Passage was killed by Inuit or eskimo natives.

Upon rejoining their sister ship, the Heart’s Ease ship’s flag was flown over the stern to show mourning. When the ship returned to England, the ship’s flag was again flown over the stern, an accepted gesture of mourning.

An earlier tradition at sea to announce a death or to show a sign of mourning was to set a black sail or to fly a black flag. The black sails tradition was replaced by simply flying the black flag from the mast.

After the British Monarchy was restored in 1660, the Royal Navy adopted a tradition of flying their ships’ flags at half-mast on January 30th each year, on the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

As best can be found, it was this custom that has led to the present practice of announcing or remembering a death by flying the flag at half-mast.

The proper way to fly the flag at half-staff or mast is to raise the flag briskly to the top of the staff, then to lower it slowly to the half-staff position.

Some countries fly their flags at the half-staff position and others at two-thirds of the height of the staff. Some lower the flag only a flag-width.

The historical symbolism of the half-mast flag is not clear, but most scholars believe the flag is lowered to make room for the “invisible flag of death” to fly above it. Others believe it is simply a salute to the departed.

In any event, we have come to recognize this as a means of signaling or remembering the death of someone important. Such as the 3,000 victims of 9/11.

It is interesting to note that on Memorial Day we fly the flag at half-staff until noon — to honor our fallen warriors — and then raise it to full-staff for the rest of the day — to honor our veterans who are still living.

Have you ever wondered why we raise the flag to the top first then lower it, rather than just raise it to the half way point? Well, I have and I could not find an explanation for this protocol.

But I have my thoughts on this. I believe we raise our flag every day to symbolize the presence of our nation and the sovereign land we occupy. It marks our public buildings. At our homes and businesses, it shows our individual belief in our nation and what we as a people stand for. In war times, it marks our victory over our enemies.

On days that we fly our flag at half-staff, we raise our flag to the top, to the peak, to show that we are still undefeated, still in control of our country, still here.

Only then do we lower the flag to honor our fallen. And we do it voluntarily, we do it ourselves, with a purpose. No one lowers our flag for us. We don’t cower to any others, not even death. We make room for the invisible flag of death only temporarily, only as long as necessary to honor those important to us, and only on our terms.

And when it is time, we again raise our American flag to the top to show that we still have that power and control, before we lower the flag at the end of the day.

That is what we shall do today.

For months after the 9/11 attacks, we had a tremendous resurgence of patriotism in this country. Flags were sold in greater numbers than ever before. On September 12, 2001, Wal-Mart sold 88,000 flags, compared to only 6,400 that same day a year before. The flag became a symbol of our bonding together as a people, of our resolve to never let this happen again.

This has been called the “Rally ’Round the Flag Effect.”

Sadly, that patriotism quickly dwindled. So much so that we rarely mention those things we swore not to forget, except of course on 9/11, or maybe July 4th, or Veterans or Memorial Days.

Few of our citizens stand for the flag as it passes in parade; hats remain on heads and conversations continue during the National Anthem at sports events; many of our school students don’t recite the pledge of allegiance; I doubt that half of us here today knew that today was set aside as Patriots Day; and few of us fly the flag at home or elsewhere anymore.

Too many of our citizens hate our flag or condone others who desecrate our flag. Today, we seem to stand for nothing but support everything. Our fear of offending someone has overtaken our national pride.

I’m not criticizing anyone… just simply pointing out that it seems our nation no longer rallies ‘round the flag. Our American flag!

I would like see a day when our nation’s leaders are those who truly care about our country, who have the heart and the ability to unite us again in a love of country over self, in patriotic spirit, in an appreciation of the history symbolized by our American flag… that history that made us once a great nation… respected by the world, appreciated by those who share our beliefs and feared by those who don’t.

I’m looking forward to a day when our leadership truly rallies ‘round the flag again.

Our American flag.

Until then, it is reassuring to know there are folks like all of you who come out for a ceremony such as this, to show your respect for the symbol of our nation.
And that there are men and women like these law enforcement officers and first responders… who still run toward the chaos rather than away from it… who protect us from those who would do us and our nation harm.

And that there are still people willing to volunteer to serve in our nation’s armed services… to put themselves between us and the evil groups set on destroying our way of life… who put their lives at risk every day for us.

And it is reassuring to see that there is still a family like the Culbreths, who could continue on with their lives and businesses, keeping their patriotism to themselves, but are willing to set an example for the rest of us, to openly display their love of country and gratitude to those who serve, by giving us this wonderful gift, the gift of our American flag. And long may it wave.

In a moment the Sheriff’s color guard will be raising this beautiful new flag to the top of the new flagpole, then will lower it to half-staff. Please remain silent as we remember the significance of our American flag to us and pay respect to the 3,000 lives taken from us 14 years ago.

Raising the flag at the flag ceremony on Sept. 11, 2015.

Raising the flag at the flag ceremony at Gilbert Ford in Okeechobee  on Sept. 11, 2015.

When the flag is positioned at half-staff, we will be led in the Pledge of Allegiance by Firefighter Josh Borgstrom, followed by the playing of our National Anthem. Then, in honor of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy, taps will be played.

In closing, to Gil and family, thank you again for this opportunity, and to all of you, thank you all for your kind attention.

God bless us all and God bless the United States of America.

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