Upfront - Doing the Wave (Flags)

The beautiful furl of a flag flying in the wind connects me to the history and the future of Hampton Roads.

By: Michael Jon Khandelwal

When I moved back to Hampton Roads after college, I decided to fly flags outside my house. When I was a young child, I read a book about flags and was immediately hooked. I learned about them all—nautical, historic, national, world.

I love how Hampton Roads is integral to the march of history in America, and that is especially evident in this region’s ties to Revolutionary War history, where key battles in the area helped secure liberty for our entire nation.

With room for four new flags (I already had the nautical flag for the letter “M”—the “Mike” flag—hanging like a banner), I remembered really liking the Revolutionary flags with the snake and “don’t tread on me” embossed across the fabric, so I picked two versions: the yellow Gadsden flag and the white Culpepper Flag. I also picked a Virginia flag and the flag for USC to show a little school spirit (Go Trojans!).

The Culpepper flag also includes the words “Liberty or Death.” I am especially drawn to it because it was flown right here in Hampton Roads at the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775. The Culpepper Minutemen were mustered by Col. Patrick Henry’s regiment (thus the addition of “liberty or death” from his famous speech). Col. William Woodford was the commander of the Minutemen when they engaged the British in Great Bridge, and it was an important and early victory for our forces of independence.

For a few years, my flags proudly waved. Occasionally, I had to replace one that was damaged by the weather. In 2005, someone stole one of the flags, and I replaced it. In 2006, another flag was stolen, and I replaced it, too. The police figured both occurrences were kids or drunks, and it was nothing to worry about. And that’s when I learned how to create a locked mount—so for years thereafter, the flags were safe.

But last July, someone came to my house and literally ripped all four flags and their aluminum poles off the side of the house, bending and cracking all four heavy duty mounting brackets. This time, the theft seemed violent and purposeful and scarred the pillars of my front porch. Theories abounded. Conservative friends noted that the yellow Gadsden flag had been adopted by the Tea Party. It was neighborhood liberals who stole the flags because they thought my house was Tea Party Headquarters.

Liberal friends reminded me that Sarah Palin had just been in town and they thought that Tea Partiers, wanting a flag to wave at the various rallies, stole them. Plus, they pointed out, ever since I was the president of the Virginia Electoral College, I’d been harassed, and as an elector, my address was of public record (you’d be surprised how many vaguely threatening letters were FedExed to me from so called “birthers”). Perhaps they were upset a liberal was flying their new emblem?

I believe the thieves’ political persuasion makes no difference. They are simply criminals and vandals, no matter if they stole them for a political point or were bored and stole them on a dare. Besides, the USC flag was stolen, too, and you never know when a rogue UCLA or Notre Dame fan will snap.

I’ve since purchased the flags again, with a few differences. Instead of the Gadsden flag—which was usurped by a political movement and was actually an emblem of South Carolina’s involvement in the Revolution, not Virginia’s—I am now proudly flying a flag that is even more beautiful and meaningful to me: the flag of Hampton Roads.

I’d wanted one for quite some time, and it helps highlight my love for Hampton Roads and its history. My Culpepper flag represents how Hampton Roads helped found this nation. My Virginia flag shows my love for the commonwealth that helped lead this nation. But my Hampton Roads flag proudly welcomes the future—and the hope that Hampton Roads stays vital to the golden age of both Virginia and the United States.

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