SJR Column: What Does the Flag Mean to Me?, July 2012

What does the flag mean to me? Any other year but this year I might have answered this question by discussing, as a university’s Chancellor probably should, that important purpose of a university education – the preparation of citizens in a country that needs citizenship.

But this year when I think about what the flag means to me, all I can think about is a woman I know who, like me, is a mother of four. We were once neighbors on 19th Street near the university in Cedar Falls, Iowa. My youngest daughter, Rachel, was the Morris family babysitter for several years. She often brought the children, Molly, Taylor, Riley and toddler Clare to play at our house. I always thought the kids looked like little ducklings following along in single file behind her and I was grateful to their mother, Juli, for the positive role model she provided for my rambunctious daughter.

After the kids outgrew the need for babysitting, we saw the Morris kids and their parents less often; but we stayed in touch, crossing paths at community events and basketball games and following news of our kids’ high school exploits in the local paper. I still smile when I think of of Juli’s much-anticipated holiday letters – they arrived in a bulging envelope each December – pages and pages of photos and stories catching us up with great enthusiasm on the latest adventures of each member of the family.

Juli is too busy now to know this, but we are in touch once again and I am thinking about her every day. She is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Taylor’s girlfriend, Danielle, is sharing with her the writing of daily updates about Taylor on his Caring Bridge web page.

On May 3, Taylor, a 23-year old Navy EOD – explosives ordinance demolition technician – stepped on a bomb in Kandahar province, Afghanistan while on patrol. He lost his right leg at the knee, his left leg at mid-thigh, his right arm at the wrist and his left arm at the elbow. Taylor is one of five members of the American military thus far who have survived the loss of four limbs in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now like many others I look forward anxiously to a post every day with news from Juli or Danielle about Taylor. Surrounded by his family, his Navy friends and a team of dedicated medical specialists; he is making amazing progress. I am in awe at his courage and determination.

A few weeks ago on Mother’s Day, Juli posted this message: “Today is Mother’s Day and I am blessed. I am blessed because my children are safe.” So on this 4th of July when I think about what the flag means to me, I’ll think about my former neighbor, Taylor’s mom. I’ll be grateful for the service of men and women like Taylor and for the sacrifices of their families. I’ll send lots of positive energy Taylor’s way as Juli has requested and I’ll, too, be grateful that Juli’s son is safe.

[Read more about Taylor Morris]

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch