Monday, June 14, is National Flag Day. In addition, the week June 13-19 has been designated as “National Flag Week.” This year the American Flag, aka “Old Glory,” is 244 years old. The purpose of NFD is to commemorate the adoption of the flag as the official flag of the Thirteen Colonies by the Second Continental Congress by resolution on June 14, 1777. So, the flag is several years older than the United States, itself. NFD is not an official federal holiday. Below please find some points of information with respect to NFD and the flag, itself:
- The evolution of the design is murky and in dispute. According to one account the traditional design of the flag was the brainchild of Francis Hopkinson, a Continental Congressman from New Jersey. Hopkinson was also a consultant to the creation of the Great Seal of the US. Popular legend has held that several of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington, commissioned Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia upholsterer and flag-maker, to design the first official flag. This version has been defended and perpetuated throughout the years by various of her descendants. However, currently, it is not generally supported by most historians for various reasons. Based on my research the likelihood is that several persons had a hand in the design. For instance, at the time of the Revolution there were well over a dozen flag-makers in Philadelphia alone. Apparently, Ross was involved to some degree. She is generally credited with replacing the original six-point star with the five-point star.
- There are various theories of the origin and meaning of the design and meaning of the stars and stripes. The likelihood is the ideas for them were derived from a combination of other flags, such as the Sons of Liberty flag and those of various European nations. More certain is the notion that the 13 stars and stripes represent the original 13 colonies. As most of us know, over the years, an additional star has been added representing each additional state, for a current total of 50, and their shape on the flag has changed from a circle to columns and rows. Other than Alaska and Hawaii, can you name the last state added and the date? See answer below.
- June 14 is also the US Army’s birthday. It was on this date in 1775 that the Continental Congress established the “American Continental Army.”
- NFD has always been a day exhibiting great patriotism and pride, although from time to time there have been some dissenters. (See below).
- Traditionally, most towns and cities have held parades to honor the flag. Last year, due to fears of the Coronavirus, there were fewer celebrations, but this year I expect a return to normalcy as people are looking to “bust out” after a year of confinement and fear.
- Several locales, such as Fairfield, CT, Appleton, WI, and Quincy, MA, have claimed to have the “longest running” or “oldest continuous” NFD parades. There is not universal agreement as to which claim is accurate.
- According to Wikipedia the earliest suggestion of a FD to honor the flag was by one George Morris of CT in 1861. The idea spread quickly.
- In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson was the first president to issue a proclamation designating June 14 as NFD.
- As we know, it is customary to honor the flag by singing the National Anthem before sporting events. According to UShistory.org., this custom began in the 19th century, albeit sporadically, as the Star Spangled Banner became increasingly popular. In 1918 and then during WWII it was sung to honor our troops in combat. Then, after WWII the tradition remained and also spread to other sporting events as we see today.
- We have all observed the ceremonious folding of the flag, for example, at funerals. The flag is folded 13 times. Each fold has a meaning, but is not universal among the various branches of the Armed Services.
- In 1937 Pennsylvania became first state to designate NFD as a state holiday.
- In 1942 President FDR proclaimed a “United Flag Day” or “United Nations Day” to express solidarity among the Allies fighting in WWII.
- In 1949 Congress designated NFD as a National Holiday.
Unfortunately, in the last few years some holiday celebrations have been marred by protests as some groups have been using the flag as a symbol of what they believe is wrong with America. The flag has been used as a means of protest before, most notably during the Vietnam War when some protestors burned or otherwise desecrated the flag as a means of expressing displeasure with that war.
For the most part, although by tradition most Americans show respect for the flag and what it represents by standing and removing hats when the National Anthem is played there are some who have chosen to air their grievances by kneeling. This began in 2016 when some National Football League players chose to kneel instead of stand during the playing of the National Anthem in order to, in their words, “raise awareness of racism and police brutality” in America. Hopefully, this show of disrespect will abate over time.
Personally, I am opposed to kneeling. I understand the reasons for it, but, to me, the overriding factor is that it disrespects the flag and all the people who have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. It tends to harden positions on both sides to the point that sensible, rational discussion of the issues becomes very difficult. I think the protesters would be well advised to find other ways to express their grievances.
According to the Department of Defense proper flag etiquette prohibits:
- carrying it flat or horizontally;
- letting it touch the ground, the floor or water,
- permitting it to be soiled or otherwise damaged, or
- flying it upside down, except to “convey a sign of distress or great danger.”
Quiz answer: Arizona 2/10/1912, about one month after New Mexico