Stars, bars, and open arms

By RICK WORMWOOD  |  April 28, 2010

Like Walter McKertich earlier, Millard’s problem was with the Confederate flag. “It’s the stars and bars that are pissing me off,” he said. “Of course they are (flying over the American flag) because they’re trying to make a message of hate win out over a message of hope. It just takes people to stand up and say it and do it and to be here, and that’s why I’m here.”

Twenty yards away, a high-school kid wearing a nine-millimeter was watching Millard intently. The kid didn’t want to make a statement for the article, but he told me that his dad was the truck’s owner, and he was watching to make sure nobody keyed the doors. Eventually, he also told me, among other things, that his father was a Marine, and so was his older brother. His older brother was sent to Iraq, but eventually judged to be bipolar by the Corps, and discharged. His brother drifted to Florida, got involved in drugs, and has been out of contact for a year; his mother left his father, and it’s just him and his dad; the Confederate flags symbolized rebellion, and they had added them only that day. When passing them on the highway some people would give him and his dad thumbs-up, but more often people give them the finger. He’ll be 18 in July, and leaving for his own stint in the Marines at the end of the year; he can’t wait to get to Iraq. He proudly pointed out how he built the lights on the back of his dad’s truck, wiring them himself.

When Millard abandoned his position directly behind their truck, the kid’s whole posture changed. He eased up, and seemed relieved. Not long after, the event was over. The kid climbed into the big, flag-bestrewn truck beside his dad. As they passed me on their way out of the parking lot, both smiled and waved. While waving back, I was certain that, along with being an eternal beacon of hope, America was also dark, a little spooky, and armed to the teeth.

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