As a retired Marine Corps officer, I was disgusted by a misguided protester who took it upon himself to wave the Marine Corps flag and the Confederate flag together in front of the White House. No marine I know would have done such a thing. What started out as a protest over closing the war memorials, monuments and parks along the mall in Washington, D.C. turned into a bash-the-President rally. The waving of the Confederate flag symbolized the racially charged atmosphere of the protest.
When I was growing up, I believed that the Confederate flag was no more than a symbol of my southern heritage. A tense conversation with my African-American platoon sergeant changed my perceptions of the flag. I can still remember his words echoing in my head across the decades. "Lieutenant, if you were black, especially a southern black like me, you'd hate that flag and all it stands for. My great-great granddaddy was a born a slave and all his people before him were slaves. A man as good as you can't defend something that stands for one man owning another."
That conversation was an eye opener for me. The words came from a man I respected and would eventually grow to love, as men love other men who have shared hardship and danger. It made me very aware of my "whiteness." Even though I had played sports alongside people of color, I had never really identified with them or understood their viewpoints.
As I watched the protest and the declarations that President Obama prayed to Allah with the Koran in hand, and that he was not American like the rest of us, I was struck by how white the protesters were. I thought of my first platoon of marines. Besides an African-American platoon sergeant, I had a collection of 40 Americans from all walks of life. There were seven Puerto Ricans, five Latinos, nine southern whites, three whites from South Boston, 11 Blacks, two Muslims, one Jew and three Asian-Americans. We were a diverse group. In many ways, we were a microcosm of America. There were tensions here and there, but we ironed them out. In the end, we became a unit, functioning as one.
In no small way, those 40 young men from different backgrounds made me choose to stay in the Marine Corps and make it a career. They also laid the foundation for my political beliefs and my values. They taught me that no matter how different we are, we can find common ground. Even though I had reservations about President Obama, I took pride in seeing the election of the first African American president. It affirmed the American ideal that we are equal.
It is for that reason, and the memories of my Marines, that my face flushed with anger when I saw the Marine Corps flag flying alongside the Confederate flag. The Marine flag does not stand for a cause lost 150 years ago. It stands for sacrifice and love of country. It flew alongside the Union Army at the Battle of Bull Run. It has flown above the heights at Iwo Jima and many other battles of historical consequence and countless skirmishes of no consequence, but it has always been a symbol of the Marine motto, Semper Fidelis! (Always Faithful!).
As a disabled veteran, I'm more concerned about getting my VA disability check than I am about a closed war memorial. A deal finally was made, but all of us have been hostage to a dysfunctional Congress. We have good reason to be angry.
Although I think that this weekend's protest was misdirected at the President, rather toward than the extremists who don't understand compromise and governing, protest is a sacred American right. I spent two and half decades defending that right, but I cannot condone the racial symbolism of flying the Confederate flag alongside a flag that stands for faithful loyalty to the nation and its legitimately elected Commander in Chief.
Mr. Lloyd is a retired Marine officer. He resides in North Chattanooga.