Flags are Important Symbols

When the English writer Rudyard Kipling, the unofficial poet laureate of the 19th century British empire, wrote the following words in his poem “The English Flag,” about the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade: “I have spread its fold o’er the dying, adrift in a hopeless sea; I have hurled it swift on the slaver, and seen the slave set free,” he struck a resonate chord with me.

A flag is a powerful symbol and, although I followed three different career paths during my 36 years on active duty in the Navy, I think I would have been just as happy being a simple signalman whose everyday business involves working with flags and pennants at sea. One of the oldest ratings in the Navy, along with boatswain’s mate, a signalman is often exposed to inclement weather on the signal bridge; but he is topside; he can see what’s going on and is privy to the “big picture;” and all those flags in the ship’s flag bag are fascinating in themselves.

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