“He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner (flag) over me was love.” – Song of Solomon 2:4
You may very well not know the name, William Harvey Carney, but he was the first African American to be awarded the highest combat award in our country, The Medal of Honor. It was awarded to him while he was still alive in 1900, thirty five years after the cessation of the Civil War in America. He was given this highest of military honors for magnificent courage and bravery in the face of withering and lethal enemy fire which wounded him many times over, but he still sustained his critical task.
Carney was born into slavery in Virginia, but escaped to the north at a young age. In 1863 at the age of 23, he joined the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. If you have seen the film “Glory,” you know it featured the story of the Massachusetts 54th.
Five months after joining, Carney was pressed into combat with the 54th at the assault on Fort Wagner. The assault was brutal, with 30% casualties to the 54th.
A soldier and flag bearer, John Wall, was shot and killed in the assault, and Carney found himself right next to him. He grabbed the flag as Wall fell, never letting it fall to the ground. Unlike those who now trample it down or burn it, the flag was revered and respected then. It was a high honor to protect the colors under which the 54th fought.
This had been true for centuries, a tradition going back to the Eagles of the Roman Legions: never let the flag be captured or fall. A fleeing unit has shame, but nothing compared to abandoning the flag.
Almost immediately after grabbing the flag as Wall fell dead, Carney was shot through his leg, but he still remained standing. He hoisted the flag high and continued with his fellow soldiers to march toward the Fort. He was subsequently hit by fire to his chest, his arm, and again to his leg. But he held the flag high, and even in the eventual retreat, he ignored his wounds and continued to hold the colors above his comrades.
Another bullet grazed his head, and Carney stood firm, not allowing “Old Glory” to fall. At the end of the retreat Carney finally passed the flag to another soldier as he collapsed, saying “Boys, I only did my duty. The flag never touched the ground!”
Such will be lost on those who have absolutely no respect for a flag that has led countless soldiers into battle, in freeing oppressed peoples from around the world, in representing the virtues of freedom, and keeping the republic standing, however flawed. Under a Declaration and Constitution which reflect those principles consistent with the God of all Creation, this nation has been a refuge to those who seek freedom to worship as they please.
In this Cancel Culture age there will be no appreciation by too many given to the flag on Flag Day, June 14, but I pray some of us who love the history of how God has used America to accomplish His ends in the world, despite the fact we are a nation of sinners, will give thanks to God for His everlasting mercies.