BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
PUNGO — Everything good in my life comes from joining the U.S. Navy. I came to Hampton Roads, met my future wife, attended college, found work as a reporter, had kids. Et cetera.
Service in the Navy is the foundational time of my life. I worked with the best people our nation has to offer. I can’t tell you I’ve ever risen to their example, but I’m better than I would have been without their company. I keep trying to do better, especially when I fail.
I’ve saluted our nation’s flag so many times I cannot count. It was never a chore, never a nuisance delaying comings or goings from the ship. It was saluting sacrifices the red, white and blue represent, including the service and history of the people I love.
I am blessed to live in a country where people can disagree along the road to a better community. I knew it when I was young. I know it better now because I have a wife, our children, this community. I believe in our ability to build upon what matters.
I’m older, out of uniform now.
I’m still saluting when I hold my hand over my heart.
It is beautiful when we agree. Because we are American, we know it is sometimes beautiful when we don’t. The flag is a symbol of that beauty, our American conversation. It can be a hard talk.
I want to talk now about our flag and how I have represented both it and some of the people I have photographed for our newspaper.
Sometimes I have photographed people while they are saluting or pledging allegiance during meetings and other events. This may bother some people because I should be saluting, should be pledging while others do so. I see the looks. I understand them.
I photograph those moments because they are beautiful to me. These moments tell us who we are and may become. They represent something greater than our individuality, our small communities among a greater community.
It’s a ritual. A symbol of greater faith.
Late last year, President-elect Trump made a remark on social media that those who burn our flag deserve punishment, that they should even lose their citizenship.
I worry about civil liberties, but I’m sure the president-elect will work that out with the Supreme Court if he decides to return to this subject among many pressing concerns.
What I can do with what little power I have is try to do a better job saluting our flag in my life and work.
I’ll also be careful about how the flag is represented here.
I recently used images of the flag as a background to a column and as a detail placed beneath text in our election issue. An image of the flag, one of my old photos, is a repeated image at the website. There have been no complaints. There should have been.
These images, as used in those instances, were decorative rather than documentary. I was careless.
One of the hard things about our newspaper, as we approach the end of its second year, is that readers endure my growing pains as an editor.
I’ll try to judge images and advertising with better care. I’ll determine whether a representation of the flag is appropriate or, at least, important to news or events being documented.
I am also retiring an image that is among my favorites. It runs on this page for the last time. The photograph shows a close look at a flag on the grave of a veteran.
I love the image because of where I took it and who was with me.
You see the depth of the blue, three white stars, threads that make the cloth, and a tiny spot of what I assume is red ink within one white star.
The red spot speaks to me about sacrifice, the cost of liberty. That’s how I see it. Others see things differently. Ours is a bumpy but beautiful arrangement.
© 2016, 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC