Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 3, 2008 - Like any soldier, Army Pfc. Alexander Cesario always makes sure he has all his essential equipment before he goes "outside the wire." For Cesario, that means his weapon, radio and night vision goggles, as well as one special personal item: an American flag his father brought home from Vietnam. Cesario, a Somerville, N.J., native serving as a forward observer with 82nd Airborne Division's Company A, Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, has carried his father's flag with him on every mission since being deployed to Iraq a year ago.
The soldier's father, Adam, 61, acquired the flag when he was a young paratrooper serving in Vietnam. The elder Cesario never let a day go by without unfurling the flag, no matter where he was or what he was doing.
"(My dad) flew that flag every day, even if he had to put it up on a radio antenna," Cesario said.
At one point, a mission went wrong and Cesario's father was cut off from the rest of his platoon. For three days, he had to hack it out of the jungle alone, with the Viet Cong in hot pursuit. But even on the run, he still managed to raise the flag each day.
"He didn't stop moving at all for those three days, except to fly that flag," Cesario said.
When Cesario's father returned from the war, he put the flag into safekeeping. He was so protective of it that even family members were rarely allowed to handle it.
"It was like his prized possession," Cesario said.
Nothing could make the elder Cesario part with the flag until Alexander, 19, was deployed to Iraq this year. After he began patrolling the streets of Baghdad, Cesario decided he wanted to carry on his father's tradition. After some arm-twisting, he convinced his dad to mail him the flag.
The flag arrived with step-by-step instructions on how to take care of it, Cesario said. He recalled the final step with a laugh: "If you lose it, don't bother coming home."
Despite the threat of exile, Cesario takes the flag with him everywhere. It is his way of paying tribute to his father, he said.
"I wanted to honor him," Cesario said, "It meant a lot to him, and because of that, it means a lot to me."
The soldier keeps the flag tucked into the front flap of his body armor, close to his heart. He said he's looking forward to redeploying and returning the flag -- now a veteran of two wars -- to its rightful owner.
Cesario, who is single, said he would like to pass the flag on to his own son when he has one. There's only one problem.
"I'll have to pry it away from my dad first," he joked.
(Army Staff Sgt. Mike Pryor serves with 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs.)