There has been much ado over the last few days since the NFL and President Donald Trump have heated up the rhetoric over the controversy of professional football players using the national anthem as a platform of protesting against social injustice.

I have friends on both sides of the spectrum — those who agree with the millionaire sports players and their right to protest and those who agree with the president that they should be fired for disrespect. I also have friends who fully support the protestors but feel they should find a better time and place to utilize their First Amendment right.

I tend to lean toward the latter of the three. I have absolutely no problem with free Americans exercising their right to free speech, whether or not I agree with it. That’s one of the very rights I gave up my own for in order to protect for so many years.

My only problem is the method; protesting the “Star Spangled Banner” by refusing to stand and show respect really does show disdain for something I truly care about — the flag the anthem was written to honor.

For me, it’s all about the flag: The flag which has covered the coffins of entirely too many of my friends and mentors, both while I served and well into my retirement.

I had lost several brothers and sisters in uniform to accidents and suicides prior to Sept. 11, 2001, but the first combat casualty of someone I knew occurred in March 2003. I was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona as a public affairs noncommissioned officer when we found out that Maj. Jay Aubin was killed in a helicopter crash in Kuwait. He was an instructor with Marine Aviaton Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1, and before his deployment, he was my point of contact for the unit. He never failed to get me a story when I needed one and he often managed to get me on various helicopters to go cover them.

Our flag draped his coffin as he returned home.

Soon after, Marine Sgt. Fernando Padilla-Ramirez of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 was killed in action near Nasiriyah, Iraq. He was a native of Mexico who had just become a naturalized citizen in 2001. I had interviewed him just prior to his deployment.

He, too, came home draped in the American flag.

So many more came home this way, and I have started to see my retired friends and those I admired heading to Fiddler’s Green as well. Retired Gen. Robert Shoemaker, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Elijah King Jr. — our flag draped their coffins, was precisely folded and handed to their next of kin. There was no skin color under those flags, just brothers and sisters.

And this is why I will always stand.

David A. BRYANT is an Army retiree and a military reporter for the Killeen Daily Herald. You can reach him at dbryant@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7554.

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