By: Robert Loys Sminkey
Commander, United States Navy, Retired
A foreign diplomat who often criticized American policy once observed a United States Marine perform the evening colors ceremony.
The diplomat wrote about this simple but solemn ceremony in a letter to his country:
During one of the past few days, I had occasion to visit the United States Embassy in our capital after official working hours.
I arrived at a quarter to six and was met by the United States Marine on guard at the entrance of the Chancery. He asked if I would mind waiting while he lowered the two American flags at the Embassy.
What I witnessed over the next ten minutes so impressed me that I am now led to make this occurrence a part of my ongoing record of this distressing era. The Marine was dressed in a uniform which was spotless and neat; he walked with a measured tread from the entrance of the Chancery to the stainless steel flagpole before the Embassy and, almost reverently, lowered the flag to the level of his reach where he began to fold it in military fashion. He then released the flag from the clasps attaching it to the rope, stepped back from the pole, made an about face, and carried the flag between his hands--one above, one below--and placed it securely on a stand before the Chancery. He then marched over to the second flagpole and repeated the same lonesome ceremony.
On the way between poles, he mentioned to me very briefly that he would soon be finished. After completing his task, he apologized for the delay--out of pure courtesy, as nothing less than incapacity would have prevented him from fulfilling his goal--and said to me, "Thank you for waiting, Sir. I had to pay honor to my country."
I have had to tell this story because there was something impressive about a lone Marine carrying out a ceremonial task which obviously meant very much to him and which, in its simplicity, made the might, the power, and the glory of the United States of America stand forth in a way that a mighty wave of military aircraft, or the passage of a super-carrier, or a parade of 10,000 men could never have made manifest. In spite of all the many things that I can say negatively about the United States, I do not think there is a soldier, yea, even a private citizen, who could feel as proud about our country today as the Marine does for his country.
One day it is my hope to visit one of our embassies in a far-away place and to see a soldier fold our flag and turn to a stranger and say, "I am sorry for the delay, Sir. I had to honor my country." Unquote.