I am aware that the national ensign is merely a piece of colored cloth. But I am also aware that it is more than that, a symbol of the freedoms we Americans enjoy and treasure. And it takes on extra significance for sailors, because part of the military job description is a willingness to make great sacrifices; it is that mere piece of cloth that is placed on the coffins of fallen warriors.
Because this is a nation of freedom, its citizens are free to ignore the colors ceremony. And they are free to think what they please during it. But as a sailor who was privileged to serve and simultaneously see much of the world, I have an appreciation of just how special this nation is. I have seen the dark side of the world and take little for granted. So it is that I stand my ground when First Call is sounded and use this isolated moment to think about what this Navy and this nation are all about, to think about what it is that makes the United States the greatest experiment in history, never perfect but continually striving to be so.
Whether a sailor's job is hoisting bombs to the belly of an aircraft or putting words on paper, conning a submarine into the abyss or inspecting it for safety, piloting an aircraft or repairing it, there is no exaggeration in saying that we are a big part of what keeps this nation safe. This is something to be proud of and, while no nation is served well by jingoists or blind patriots, it is not a bad thing to feel a burst of pride at the sight of our nation's flag bursting forth on a morning breeze.
And just as morning colors often cause a great surge of pride as the flag makes its dramatic appearance, so evening colors is a time for quiet reflection. As I stand respectful in the twilight, watching the national ensign slowly descend the staff to the haunting notes of a bugle playing "Retreat," I feel a special bond with this great nation and appreciate the sacrifices that have been made in its defense. It is one of those moments that people in other walks of life can't really share, a moment that takes me out of the routine of daily life, a moment that reminds me of what is truly important and makes me realize the great privilege I have been given by an accident of birth to be an American.
I do not run from bugles.
Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the senior book acquisitions editor for the Naval Institute Press.