The canon thundered, too close, sending a shock through the crowd. The children began to sing an anthem.
Tears formed behind her sunglasses. It was the first time she had attended.
She’d grown up with soldiers, and learned the difference young. The ones who talked of glory, honor, manhood, they didn’t know. The ones who knew—the tail gunners, EOD men, lieutenants who’d led young men to die—they kept silent.
They could not tell her why; the experience was untranslatable.
As she grew, she learned of the business of war and its vast, unspeakable corruption. She discovered that the soldiers knew of it, too. The ones who talked defended the corrupt, the others stayed silent.
Confused and disheartened, she turned away.
Then one day, she found herself in danger. Everyone deserted her, everyone but the soldiers. Silently, they protected and cared for her, showed her the meaning of duty, honor, loyalty, even love.
To most people, these were just words, but not to them.
Men fight wars for this, you know. Her lover said this quietly one night, while looking at the stars and holding her.
Suddenly, she understood. It had nothing to do with a flag. It never had. Words and symbols may have power, but in understanding truth, they were weak and insufficient.
Most times, words were unnecessary.
The canon boomed again. Her tears fell. The crowd sang together.