Patriotism displayed in Soldotna twins' flag collection

Proud to be American

Posted: Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Justin and Bryan Nusunginya of Soldotna are identical twins. The 16-year-olds mirror each other with brown hair and hazel eyes.

They also have a special niche in common.

"You won't find two more patriotic teens in the world," said Sharon Nusunginya, mother of the twins.

"I folded six flags yesterday," she said about an extensive flag collection the young men have collected.

It was a windy day, and they didn't want to see their flags torn up, so they were continually raising flags, then having to bring them back in.

The triangle fold takes two people, so their mother ends up folding plenty of flags.

"I'm usually the other half," she said.

Those pulling into the driveway can't miss two flags whipping in the air. Under one of them a sign reads, "Historic flag of the day."

Sharon said she had to put the sign out because people kept asking her what the strange looking flags were all about.

The historic flag on this particular day is the Liberty flag, a brilliant blue one with the word "Liberty" written on it. It was flown at Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor, S.C., in 1776 when the British were attacking, and the Continental Forces chased them off, the twins rattled off like tall encyclopedias.

Their interest in flags is no doubt the result of their love for history, plus examples set for them by their mother.

Sharon started stressing the importance of being civic to the boys through her own actions -- as a volunteer for the Red Cross, president of the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and on the board of directors for Love INC.

Besides being history buffs, the boys are members of several organizations. They both hold the rank of corporal and are members of the honor guard in the Alaska Young Marines. They also are Law Enforcement Explorer Scouts, hold green belts in karate and are working on their last two merit badges, along with the final project to becoming Eagle Scouts.

They have studied extensively the military history of the United States.

Bryan can spout off historical and general information about guns, ammunition specifications, distance and speed of the ammunition once fired, and even the foot-pounds of pressure on impact.

Justin is as knowledgeable concerning military aircraft. He can name any military plane by looking at its silhouette.

However, their historical flag collection is what catches the eyes of passersby.

Outside their home, the boys point out the second flag flapping in the breeze. It is the Grand Union flag, the unofficial first true U.S. flag, representing allegiance to the motherland, Justin said. It combines the British king's colors with the 13 stripes signifying the colonial unity.

"It was no longer used because of the Great Britain emblem," Justin said.

They unfold the Continental flag flown at Bunker Hill. It has a large, green pine tree, which became a New England symbol of liberty, freedom, independence and strength.

The pine tree represents the liberty tree where the Sons of Liberty met while planning the Boston Tea Party, Justin said.

"The tree was a symbol of independence."

Then Bryan unveiled another flag.

"This is the best U.S. flag ever made since the Revolutionary War," he said.

It is a bright yellow banner reading "Don't tread on me," beneath a hissing, coiled rattlesnake rising from its center.

More history into Bryan's favorite, the Gadston flag, reveals Benjamin Franklin came up with the idea through a comic strip. The rattlesnake is symbolic of the strength of America.

The snake is only found in America, it is never the first to attack and it never closes it eyes, the twins said. And most important, it warns when it is about to strike.

The Gadston flag was raised under the U.S. flag in Afghanistan after the United States took control last December, the twins said.

"So many people have no idea about historical flags," Justin said.

Bryan agrees wholeheartedly.

"Ninety-nine percent of Americans don't even know proper flag etiquette."

It is the universal custom to take the flag down at sunset, unless it is lighted, they said. It is considered a desecration to leave it hanging in the dark or to let it touch the ground or floor.

They describe with reverence the proper flag disposal.

It needs to be properly folded into a military fold and then taken to the Elks or the Veterans of Foreign War, where gas is poured over the flag and a M1 Garand military rifle is shot into the air.

Justin compares it to a military funeral.

"It's just like taking a dog to get put down," Justin said, stressing the emotional strain of the disposing of a flag.

This is why the twins take the flags down in bad weather or at night, so they never reach the point of burning.

Many people are not as patriotic as the twins, and the boys' disappointment in many Americans' lack of patriotism is apparent.

"Patriotism is going down again after 9-11," Justin said.

After the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, everyone was united, he said.

"Sadly, it has dwindled," he said. "Right after the attacks, you could hug your neighbor and they would hug you back."

The attacks were devastating for the twins.

On Sept. 12, their birthday, they did not celebrate. Instead, they were glued to the television.

They agree Sept. 11 should not be a national holiday. Making it a holiday looses its reverence, they said.

They use Memorial Day as an example of people forgetting its true meaning and thinking of it as a day off from work.

Likewise, a glumness came over the room as they talked about people forgetting about Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

"Through the years, people will forget," Justin said. "It should go in the history books, but not be a holiday."

Just as many people no longer hold remembrance ceremonies for the more than 2,000 Americans who died at Pearl Harbor, years from now they will probably not hold ceremonies for the 3,052 people who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, the boys said.

However, the twins will most likely not forget.

Justin and Bryan's patriotism is strong and gripping, like the words to Francis Scott Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner," which Justin recites from memory. It is the reason they display their unique flags.

"We're trying to boost patriotism," Justin said, "trying to make people more aware."

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