I love to fly the flag — it’s so beautiful. On all the patriotic holidays: Memorial Day, July 4, Veterans Day. I even throw in a few extra, that aren’t technically patriotic holidays: Labor Day, 9/11, Martin Luther King’s birthday, D-Day.
But all this flapping in sun-kissed Northbrook takes its toll on a flag. The deep blue of the canton — the proper name for the square displaying 50 stars — faded to sky blue. A few white stripes had rust streaks from cheap flagpoles.
Standing on the porch June 6, hand over heart, reciting the pledge, I saw light through a gapping seam. Still, with our nation in the hands of quislings, a faded and tattered flag seems appropriate.
But readers have been upbraiding me for my flag’s poor condition. I like to actually consider what people say, to weigh the possibility that those who disagree with me might be right — it’s my superpower. And with Flag Day approaching, last Friday seemed a perfect time to make the change. So I folded my worn-out flag into a triangle and headed to W.G.N. Flag & Banner at 79th Street and South Chicago Avenue.
“Let me get three options for you to choose from here,” said Carl “Gus” Porter III, setting out three boxes in his company’s cluttered front room, patrolled by Nala the cat.
“You’ve got the standard nylon for $31.60,” Porter said. “The heavy-duty polyester for $38.90. And then this is our deluxe nylon. These are $40. They have the larger stars with the silver woven into them, and you also get a one-year fade guarantee.”
“I do believe that’s the no-brainer of all-time,” I said, popping for top-of-the-line. “I’ll take it.”
W.G.N. Flag has nothing to do with the radio and TV stations of the same acronym. The flag company began in 1916, founded by Porter’s great-grandfather, William George Newbould (readers wondering what the W.G.N. initials stand for will be referred to this sentence for further study).
My new flag is 3-by-5 feet.
“I have sold up to a 50-foot-by-80-foot U.S. flag,” said Porter. “City of Country Club Hills has a 167-foot flag pole on the side of I-80. When they weren’t bankrupt, they were able to fly a giant flag that took six guys to put on the flag pole and six to remove.”
They have four seamstresses sewing flags.
“We make our Chicago flags here, and make all of our custom flags in stock,” said Porter.
W.G.N. has draped Chicago for occasions joyous and mournful, from V.E. Day to the death of Pope John Paul II. Purple bunting honoring fallen police officers and fire fighters are made here, along with championship banners for the Bulls and Blackhawks.
Having bought my new flag, it was now time to dispose of my old one.
The company has, Porter said, the only burn permit in Chicago, a 1920s document allowing them to torch flags in the alley behind their factory, where we walked to find a wire garbage can ablaze.
“Do you say a prayer or something?” I wondered.
“No, we do it respectfully and honorably and make sure it’s taken care of with dignity,” Porter said.
Proper disposal of a flag is a reminder of the ridiculousness of those periodic efforts to ban flag-burning. Burning is how flags are supposed to be retired. The U.S. Flag Code states: “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
What they are trying to ban is not burning, but protest. Because, as with the NFL protest push-back, it’s easier to gin up fake outrage than to actually listen to what somebody is trying to say. It underestimates the strength of our nation and flag to imagine either is somehow undercut by protest.
“The flag is more than just some stars and stripes hanging on a flag pole,” said Porter. “It means something to so many people, and something different. A veteran looks at that flag and feels pride for the country they fought for. Immigrants look at that flag and see the opportunity it brought them.”
And to some the flag represents the freedom to protest against it.
“Exactly,” Porter said. “I don’t agree the flag should be disrespected in any way. But I agree with anybody’s right to protest because that is one of the things the flag stands for.”