Flag Day Tribute

Blue Angels

Would you be willing to endure brutal torture for the right to display Old Glory? Mike Christian was. Do you know his story?

June 14 is Flag Day, a day set aside to honor our flag, and reflect on all it has meant throughout our history.

"Old Glory" is a sacred symbol of all the things that America stands for, and Americans hold dear -- personal liberty, the freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights, the opportunity to pursue the life you choose.

To those who understand the meaning of that flag (unlike First Lady Michelle Obama, who was caught on camera saying, "All this for a damn FLAG?!"), and the sacrifices that have been made to keep it flying as the symbol of the greatest republic on Earth, the loss of personal liberties taking place in America today are especially frightening.

The actions of today's "anti-war protesters" in desecrating our flag, as did their forbears in the 60's, is despicable and downright un-American. To patriots, an act of desecrating the flag is akin to throwing down a gauntlet.

Our military members and veterans who bled and died for that flag, and their families, understand the sacrifices it represents. They find it an inspiring symbol of the things they hold dear, and just seeing it fills them with pride. The same should be, but sadly is not, true for ALL Americans.

Mike Christian's Flag

On this Flag Day, we'd like to share with you this inspiring story of the value and importance of the American flag to an American POW in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. Despite the certainty of severe punishment if and when he was caught, this American hero crafted a small American flag sewn inside his prisoner shirt, using bits of fabric he gleaned from various sources, and a needle fashioned from bamboo.

His name was Mike Christian, and he was a true American hero whose name you probably never heard before the Presidential campaign of 2008, if you even heard it then. Sadly, Mike died tragically in a fire at his home in 1983, trapped inside by "burglar bars" on the windows that wouldn't open.

The story was told during the 2008 Presidential campaign by one of his Hanoi Hilton cellmates, whose name you will recognize: Arizona Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain:

Mike Christian's Flag

"As you may know, I spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war during the Viet Nam War. In the early years of our imprisonment, the NVA kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell. In 1971, the NVA moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room. This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change and was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans on behalf of a few hundred POWs 10,000 miles from home.

One of the men who moved into my room was a young man named Mike Christian. Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old.

At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy. He later earned a commission by going to Officer Training School. Then he became a Naval Flight Officer and was shot down and captured in 1967.

Mike had a keen and deep appreciation of the opportunities this country, and our military, provide for people who want to work and want to succeed. As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home. In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing.

Mike got himself a bamboo needle. Over a period of a couple of months, he created an American flag and sewed it on the inside of his shirt.

Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on the wall of the cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I know the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important part of our day now, but I can assure you that in that stark cell, it was indeed the most important and meaningful event.

One day the Vietnamese searched our cell, as they did periodically, and discovered Mike's shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it. That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours.

Then, they opened the door of the cell and threw him in. We cleaned him up as well as we could. The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. Four naked light bulbs hung in each corner of the room. As I said, we tried to clean up Mike as well as we could. After the excitement died down, I looked in the corner of the room, and sitting there beneath that dim light bulb with a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian. He was sitting there with his eyes almost shut from the beating he had received, making another American flag.

He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to pledge our allegiance to our flag and country.

American POW's in Vietnamese prison camps fashioned hand-made American flags from whatever threads they could find. This flag was secretly made by Col. John A. Dramesi, a POW from 1967 to 1973, from a prisoner's handkerchief, threads of red shorts, embroidery from a prison-issued blanket, and a jacket from one of their captors.

POWs presented the flag to President Nixon in the Oval Office in 1973 as a gesture of their thanks for his work to find "peace with honor." The flag is on permanent display at the Richard M. Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. Copyright (c) Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace.

So the next time you see our flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice and courage that thousands of Americans have made to build our nation and promote freedom around the world.

You must remember our duty, our honor, and our country.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.""

The next time you see Old Glory, we hope you'll remember Mike Christian and John Dramesi, and what those hand-made flags meant to them and their fellow prisoners of war. And the next time you see someone forget to remove their hat as the flag passes, or an ungrateful protester or activist dishonoring our flag, tell him (or her) the story of Mike Christian, and ask them politely, if they can't (or won't) respect the flag itself as our national symbol, to at least respect the sacrifices that have been made, and the thousands of men and women who have died, to keep that flag flying free.

If you have a flag, be sure to fly it for Flag Day. If you don't have one, this would be a great time to get one! Learn proper flag etiquette and regulations for flying your American flag.

Be sure to watch this time-honored, stirring rendition and explanation of the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance by legendary performer Red Skelton.

Mike Christian's Flag
By Joan Clifton Costner (c)

Mike Christian is an American.
I don’t know where he was born,
But I know that when in our service,
He was a prisoner - wounded and worn.

Mike found a bit of color and
With a needle - all by hand,
Inside his shirt he constructed
Colors dear to his own land.

Every night, when guards were weary
And had gone somewhat away,
Mike would hang his shirt upon the wall -
All of the prisoners would say ...

"I pledge allegiance to the flag" ...

"One nation under God" ...
While their hearts enlarged within their breasts,
Longing for their own sod.

One day the guards came searching
And they found inside Mike’s shirt
The crudely constructed flag that served
To lift their spirits from the dirt.

Just outside the cell door,
Where everyone would hear,

The guards beat Mike Christian up
And took that shirt, so dear.

They threw Mike (broken, bleeding)
To the men, so they could see
The penalties, the pay-off,
For Pledging to Liberty.

The group gathered, all around him,
To clean and treat his wounds.
They only loved their land the more

And the flag, the symbol of truth!

There wasn’t much that they could do.
Their spirits sank so low.
They had seen the enemy faces
As they took their flag to go.

But, Mike Christian found a needle
And through bleeding, swollen, eyes,
His buddies watched in wonder,
As he began another surprise!

He took a bit of red,
a bit of white, a bit of blue.
He made the stitches, with torn hands,
and all of his buddies knew

Mike Christian was an American -
Through and through and through!

I tip my hat and wipe a tear.
I’d like for Mike to know
I fly Mike Christian’s flag at home,
In the face of terrorist foes!

Red, white, and blue, we love you
(Fly high across our land)!
The spirit of allegiance place,

In the heart of every man!

The spirit of courage and loyalty,
The spirit of purity, too;
Mike Christian’s flag! Fly high! Fly high!
Mike Christian’s red, white, and blue!

Did you know that veterans not in uniform may now salute the flag?

Curious about flag etiquette, laws and regulations? Here's the definitive answer.

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