When Dave Caswell sees the American flag waving in the wind or passing in a parade, he sees more than a piece of material. To him, the flag of the United States represents freedom.
Caswell, who manages the Vet Center in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road, has taught proper etiquette regarding the Stars and Stripes to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts on the central Kenai Peninsula and has been involved with the flag education program of the Soldotna Elks Club for the past 10 years.
"The flag represents the freedoms and liberty many people fought and died for," Caswell said.
Because of this belief, Caswell finds it important to teach people about proper methods of displaying the American flag. He dislikes acts of desecration.
"I believe in personal freedoms, but not to the extent of degrading the flag," he said.
The father of four says it is much to the chagrin of his family when he observes a flag being displayed improperly.
He stops the car, gets out and finds the person responsible for the flag display, and teaches them about flag etiquette.
"I try not to get belligerent, because their heart's in the right place, but they just don't know," Caswell said.
He has stopped at no fewer than three area schools to correct their American flag displays, he said.
A 27-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, Caswell and his wife, Barbara, have three sons, Eric, 27, Brett, 22, and Brian, 15, and one daughter, Danielle, 16.
Brett and Brian have been active in Boy Scout Troop No. 672 in Soldotna, where the older son is an assistant scoutmaster. Dave Caswell has been involved with scouting since 1988, and Barbara was involved from 1988 to 1999.
"I've spoken to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts about flag etiquette, and I assisted in planning the flag ceremony for the 4-H National Convention last year in Anchorage," Caswell said.
He is certain he developed an interest in the flag by age 13 when he joined the Boy Scouts but believes the interest may have begun even earlier when he was a "military brat" moving from base to base during his father's 30-year U.S. Marine Corps career.
"Being on military bases, I saw the respect afforded the flag," he said.
After completing school, Caswell joined the military and, except for a three-year period of being a civilian, served from 1965 to 1995.
He spent a good part of his Coast Guard career in Texas, but in 1989 volunteered to help with the Exxon Valdez cleanup and learned of an opportunity in Kodiak.
"I put in for the (Coast Guard Cutter) Storis billet," he said of his first assignment in the state. He retired from service with the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Detachment in Kenai.
In June 2000, Caswell was named manager of the Vet Center.
His sense of respect for the American flag goes back to his sense of patriotism and his pride for his country.
Caswell said he believes the flag should be protected and preserved because it is more than just a piece of cloth.
"When I display the flag, I display it because I'm proud of it. If someone else doesn't, that's a privilege they have," he said.
"To me, the flag represents our country, the people who fought and died for it, and the emotion people feel regarding patriotism."
In his position at the rehabilitation counseling center for veterans, Caswell sees many veterans on a daily basis. Although Vietnam War vets represent the largest share of his clientele, many go back to World War II; one is a Pearl Harbor survivor.
"I run across many veterans who fought for our country," he said, adding that to him, that's the essence of what patriotism is.
"For me, patriotism is the act or willingness to do whatever is needed to protect the country, or the people within the country."
When he is asked how he would describe the meaning of the flag as a symbol of patriotism in the nation, Caswell said he directs the person asking the question to the ceremonial folding of the flag 13 times as is done in military burials.
According to the tradition, each fold represents a national belief or tribute.
The first few folds symbolize life and a belief in eternal life and honor veterans who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of the country.
Subsequent folds represent the armed forces that protect the country and pay tribute to the person who died so others might see the light of day.
Other folds pay tribute to God, and when the flag is completely folded into a triangle with only the stars and blue field showing, it is a reminder of the nation's motto, "In God We Trust."
Taking on the appearance of a cocked hat worn by earlier soldiers and sailors, the folded flag honors members of the Armed Forces of the United States who preserve the rights, privileges and freedoms enjoyed today.
Caswell said he also would tell the person asking the question about the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima by the Marines during World War II and what the act did to inspire their comrades still pinned down on the beach by enemy fire.
Caswell has feelings about the use of the American flag in parades, in advertising and as articles of clothing.
"My personal feeling is that parade officials should only allow one flag in a parade," he said.
"It would be at the beginning of the parade, so when it passed, people watching the parade would know they should stand at attention as it goes by.
"The way it is, with a flag being carried by every marching group, the people don't know what to do. They don't want to keep jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box, and so they end up just sitting as the flag goes by," he said.
He said he doesn't think it's right to use an American flag to promote a product.
"Maybe to promote that the product was made in the USA would be OK, but just the words, 'Made in the USA' should be enough," he said.
When asked about car dealerships that display a flag on every vehicle, he said, "If it was my business, I wouldn't do it."
"I might have a pole out front to display my individual patriotism to show my pride in the country," he said.
He points to the U.S. Flag Code, which states, "The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. ... Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown."
While he said he is tolerant of people who wear articles of clothing that represent the American flag, he attributes his tolerance more to current posture of political correctness, rather than to a turning away from proper flag etiquette.
He still gets emotional at times when the flag passes in parade; he gets emotional when he watches a flag being folded in honor of a fallen member of the military; and sometimes, he gets emotional when he hears the national anthem.
"I'm proud of America," Caswell said.
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