*Note: The informant, Harriet, is my grandma. She was born in the 1930s, so she’s seen her fair share of wars and has collected some interesting facts about wartime. This particular story is a legend about the truck of the American flag (the ball at the top of the pole).
INFORMANT: “So during the Cold War, Americans were always afraid there was going to be a Soviet invasion. Or, at least this is how people claim this got started, even though there were balls on the flags way before the Cold War. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, so everyone was in constant fear of this Soviet invasion. So what they did was they put these balls, which were called trucks, on top of the American flags, and supposedly inside they put one bullet, a bag of rice, and either matches or a knife or razor or something like that. And it was to keep the Russians or whatever enemy from getting to the flag. In an emergency, a soldier would be assigned to the flag and he would eat the rice for energy and use the razor or the match to burn or destroy the flag so the enemy couldn’t get it. And then the bullet was to kill himself.”
COLLECTOR (myself): “Why would he have to kill himself?”
INFORMANT: “Well, either to avoid being captured by the enemy, or out of guilt for destroying the flag, maybe. He’d done his duty but he did still destroy the American flag, and that’s a big no-no in the army.”
This rumor holds little weight – most experts say that the ball atop the flag is made of solid metal. However, this myth has spread through many channels, having become a favorite of veterans and soldiers. It’s a piece of nationalistic folklore, relating to American pride, wartime patriotism and an undying devotion to the country and the flag. Protecting the flag is a metaphor for protecting the country as a whole, and patriotic myths like this bestow honor on those who serve our country and add a sort of allure to the army. Perhaps my grandma had a connection to this particular myth because my grandfather served in the army – he fought in the Vietnam war.