I opened my Boy Scout newsletter last week and read the article about the “Follow the Flag” movement. Watching video of the enormous US flag waving in the breeze between canyon walls in Pleasant Grove, I knew I wanted to be a part of the gathering this year.
On Sunday, July 3, at 6:00 PM I pulled into the parking lot of a meeting house for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I came alone and knew no one there, so I looked around a little shyly. I was there for the flag. I was there hoping to experience raw patriotism.
There were people on Harleys, validating the coolness of the event. A news crew was there filming (see the story from Aldo Vasquez here). There were a couple of drones to capture the scene from overhead. Most of the people there were in families, and many seemed to know one another. I had the impression that most of the people present lived in the same LDS stake.
Under the Flag
As the Scouts began to move forward with the flag, one of the organizers directed the “followers” to move in underneath. I hadn’t expected that. I assumed that we would just walk behind the flag and only a privileged few would have the opportunity to touch it.
As I moved into position under the flag I realized how necessary our support was. It was really very beautiful under the giant flag with light filtering through the white stripes.
When the flag would catch a breeze, it would loft high above us like a parachute. I experienced the thrill of patriotism I had come looking for with even more intensity than I had anticipated. So many of us whose opportunity it was to transport the flag treated it with such respect it amounted to reverence—reverence for the principles of freedom and agency it represented, for the many sacrifices that have been made to develop and preserve the United States of America as a land of liberty, and for the protection from oppression many of us feel and attribute to the guiding care of our Heavenly Father.
Community Life under the Flag
I spotted so many metaphors for life in the United States as I walked along with my hands in the air. We began our journey full of excitement, anxious to do our part. We had both hands raised high, holding the flag aloft. There were so many hands under the flag that it truly did make light work as each individual did his or her share of carrying the burden.
The flag would regularly catch a breeze and lift so high above us that we could lower our hands and rest. As we walked along, the breeze died down and the flag rested more often and more heavily upon our hands. Our arms grew tired, so we began to alternate arms rather than holding both up together. It grew uncomfortably warm and a few people stepped outside, leaving fewer of us to shoulder the burden.
A few people seemed to become bored with the journey and began doing somewhat obstructive things. A Scout whose age I would estimate to be about 14 began “flat tiring” girls of a similar age who were wearing flip-flops. I know “flat tire” is a verb because I heard this young man’s younger sister use it in a report she made to their father, who was on the perimeter of the flag, about what her brother had been doing. If anyone is unfamiliar with the concept, it involves stepping on the back of someone’s shoe while they are walking. A Cub Scout soon began “flat tiring” those same girls, reminding me that younger boys are watching those older boys they look up to. They will follow their example for good or for evil.
People greeted friends and acquaintences and took advantage of the opportunity to catch up on one another’s lives. There were young parents walking under the flag whose hands were employed pushing strollers or holding smaller hands.They were present to help keep the flag off the ground, and their friends and neighbors were vigilant in holding it high enough that it did not fall on their heads.
Those of us in the middle of the struggle to support the flag could see little of what was going on outside. We couldn’t see how close to or far from our destination we were. We could mostly just see and support one another as we worked together to uphold the flag. We were moving toward higher ground, so there was a gradual but steady incline for the entire journey.
A Vanguard of Cub Scouts
A group of Cub Scouts ensured the participants weren’t the only ones touched by this event. Before we left the church parking lot, a leader called a group of boys around him to give them instructions. They were to be the “door knockers,” going in front of the flag and alerting people that we would be passing by. Immediately behind them went the people on Harleys and a small contingent of law enforcement personnel. The flag came next, with those holding it up and many walking beside and behind it in sort of an informal honor guard. As the vanguard, many of them in Cub Scout uniform, knocked on doors, people spilled out onto front lawns and sidewalks. Some cheered, some waved or saluted. All seemed uplifted to be a part of this very visible display of patriotism.
The Flag is Flying
As we arrived at the Grove Creek Canyon trailhead, the flag was very quickly gathered and bundled to be taken to a clean location to prepare it to be carried up the canyon and rigged to hang between the walls. Under the direction of Emerson Nix, a Boy Scout in Troop 1166, it was rigged later that night so that the next morning it could be unfurled as part of a patriotic service. My husband and I hiked up that canyon after that patriotic service and looked back at the flag. It was breathtaking. If you want to see it at its best, go up in the evening this week to catch a musical performance and watch the lighting ceremony. See the schedule of events.
Author: Susan Cheever | Utah National Parks Council