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For One Austin Man, Every Day Is Worth a Memorial

Joy Diaz for KUT News

Every Memorial Day we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of duty.

But Rick Smith doesn’t wait on any specific day of the year. He has made it his mission in life to honor the U.S. flag every morning and night – and plans on doing so for the rest of his life.

Most mornings, at around 8:30, Smith opens his front door and starts his patriotic ritual. Occasionally, his health fails him and he skips a day. 

On a carved wooden table in his dining room, sits his U.S. flag. It’s perfectly folded. He picks it up and heads outside. A flagpole stands in front of Smith’s house. When he reaches it, the 66 year-old unhitches the bottom of the pole. The sound of chirping birds fills the air. He tilts the pole sideways and hooks up his flag.

“I don’t have a band to play,” Smith says. “And I don’t sing, so, we’ll just slide it up here.”

Even without the military band, Smith's ritual is precise and his sentiment visible.

He makes it a point to remember his father and uncles, “[they were] World War II Veterans,” he says. Smith is also friends with a guy who has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, as he puts it, “more times than [he] wants to think about.” Smith says his friend suffered a traumatic brain injury while fighting for his country.

“So this is for him also,” Smith says. “For him and his wife and his kids.” Smith says in the mornings with the flag as his only witness, he prays for the safety and welfare of all human beings, not just Americans.

“I’m not a RAH – RAH!” he says. “But I guess I am in this respect. I enjoy being proud of being an American. And I love life. I love people. And it’s just a way to start your morning and it makes me feel good.”

9/11 was the day that made Rick Smith commit to this ritual.

“We’d flown flags like most people on the holidays,” says Smith, but “after 9/11 I [was] like, all right, we need to get a larger more significant flag. So, we’ve been trying to fly it more honorably and correctly since that time.”

Smith and his wife, Linda, had flown flags on regular house staffs, the kind you attach to the front porch. But they didn’t like how the flag would hang. It bothered them.

“So, to correct that,” says Smith, “we put up the flagpole and when the breeze is going the right way, it does better. I’d like to see more people doing it but that’s just me.”

After hanging his flag and making sure it’s catching the wind the “right” way, Smith walks away to get on with his day. He’s a retired pharmacist. Still gets calls from people who can’t or won’t go see a doctor. They want advice. Sometimes he’s able to help. He enjoys his family and on beautiful days, when he's feeling strong, he enjoys fishing, too.

But at the end of each day, he's home in time to lower his flag at sunset – out there by himself completing the ceremonial cycle. He says in his mind, there’s a always military band playing Taps.

“As an American, we should be proud of being American. We don’t do a lot of things right; but neither do I or you or anyone else. So, be proud of your country,” Smith says.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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