“I would walk through the fiery pits of hell with gasoline underwear on to protect that flag.”
Barbara Grider’s fierce look makes it clear she’s not joking.
The “Yes,” “That’s right,” and “Uh-huh,” that follow leave no doubt that neither would her family.
For eight generations – that’s back to the Civil War – the Grider-Stacy clan has proudly served in the military. If you ask, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is the only place in the world I’d want to live,” said Teresa Stacy.
“I’d do anything for this country, I’d die for this country.”
Sitting with four members of the family, all with local roots, at Capital Wine Cellars for Wayne Stacy’s photography exhibit, David Grider, (Army), Wayne and Barbara Stacy, (both Navy) and Teresa Stacy, (Air Force and Navy), it’s clear their patriotism isn’t forced.
It’s the result of years of being instilled with a sense of responsibility, they say.
“My mother, who was never in the military, she instilled my patriotism in me,” said Barbara.
“She always wanted to be in the Marines, and trust me, she would have made a good drill sergeant. But because she wanted to, I did too.”
And nothing would stand in Barbara’s way of enlisting. Not even a little thing like marriage.
“I tried to get in to the service three times before they let me in,” she said.
But because of regulations the military had at the time, Barbara couldn’t join as an unwed mother.
“I kept going back, and finally I said, ‘There’s got to be some way I can get in.’ The recruiter looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, there is. You can get married.’ Well, he told me that on a Wednesday, I was married on that Friday and enlisted by Monday.”
“When I got in, I called my mom and said, ‘Mom, I did something. I enlisted’. And she just yelled and said, ‘Well Hallelujah!’”
A generation later, Wayne says he recognized the same tug on his heart toward national service.
“When my uncle, who was more like a brother to me, left for the Navy I was very young, and I remember us going to his graduation in Great Lakes,” Wayne said. “I saw the pride and the discipline, and just remembered how cool it was.”
“When my mother joined a few years later, it was just an extension of what I thought was already our family’s obligation and I could not wait until it was my turn.”
“There was never any doubt for me what I planned on doing with my life. I was not programmed to it or forced in that direction, I just knew.”
“I have always loved everything about my country and what it has to offer, and standing up to defend it, and to serve it…to me that was all just part of being an American; giving back to those who came before me and helping to preserve it for those who come after me.”
For this group, the bonds of military brotherhood they always longed for are even stronger than the blood bonds that prompted them to join the service in the first place.
“We’d be more apt to defend someone in the military over someone in our own family,” Wayne said. “The connection is that strong.”
David, Barbara and Teresa agreed.
“When something went bad, I had the whole ship behind me, no questions asked,” David said. “But you have to have that experience to know the brotherhood.”
“You just feel so much a part of a team,” added Teresa.
Each member of this family knows the price of freedom, having lost relatives in action and seen friends and fellow service men and women pay the ultimate price.
And like any military personnel, they know that price has a physical representation – the flag.
“When I was on tour in Spain, the only time we could fly the flag was on the Fourth of July,” Barbara explained.
When she returned, she saw a torn and weather-beaten flag flying above the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. “I went in and had them change it immediately,” she said. “To me, there’s nothing worse than seeing an American flag in shreds or on the ground.”
She added with tears welling up in her eyes, “There have been too many before me who I’ll never know and too many after who I won’t meet who have shed blood for this country.
“There is no greater honor to me in this world than when the day I die, that flag will be laid on my coffin.”
“One flag, one nation,” David agreed firmly, though the unity of the country is something that the Griders and Stacys feel is lacking in today’s society.
“It’s a responsible American’s obligation to everybody else to defend their country,” Wayne said. “It’s not happening as much and at some point, if that stops, our freedom will stop with it.”
“It’s just a continual extension of responsibility. For us, having our family in the service has educated us to it. But if that’s not there, we won’t be ready when the day comes for us to defend ourselves.”
For now, the family is thankful for those they know who are serving and eager to remember and recognize the military today.
“I don’t necessarily celebrate these kinds of holidays in the traditional way,” Barbara said, “but it’s because today is more about remembering my comrades in arms who’ve replaced me.”
“My heart is always with them, 24/7.”