Nation’s flag: Symbol of strength, unity and freedom
Rebecca Hattaway Staff Reporter
Today, Americans celebrate Flag Day, recognizing our nation’s flag as a symbol of strength and unity. The American Flag has been a prominent icon throughout our country’s history.
The history of the flag and flag etiquette are among the first lessons learned by cadets in the Navy Junior ROTC program at Claremore High School.
“We have an entire chapter in our textbooks dedicated to this subject, which we all take very seriously,” said Chief Skip Jasper, USN (Ret), Naval Science Instructor at CHS. “After the history of the flag, Flag Day, we teach our cadets how to raise, take down, and fold the flag. We discuss how the flag of the United States of America is a living symbol that calls to our spirit. It’s what represents us, what we stand for, what we feel, what we value. We teach our cadets to view the flag with devotion, that it signifies a people dedicated to liberty, justice and freedom to all.”
It was Jan. 1, 1776 that the Continental Army was reorganized in accordance with a Congressional resolution which placed American forces under George Washington’s control. On that New Year’s Day the Continental Army was laying siege to Boston which had been taken over by the British Army. Washington ordered the Grand Union flag hoisted above his base at Prospect Hill. It had 13 alternate red and white stripes and the British Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner.
In May 1776, Betsy Ross reported that she sewed the first American flag.
On June 14, 1777, in order to establish an official flag for the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed for additional stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.
Today the flag consists of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, the stars represent the 50 states of the Union.
The colors of the flag are symbolic as well: red symbolizes hardiness and valor; white symbolizes purity and innocence; and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
During the course of their studies, the NJROTC cadets learn about the Pledge of Allegiance and the meaning of each word, phrase and sentence.
“We collect flags all year long that are worn, torn or are in such condition that they cannot be flown proudly, and on Veterans Day we have a Flag Retirement Ceremony so we can properly retire these flags in a dignified manner,” Jasper said. “We collect over a thousand flags each year.”
Flag Day, which is the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777, was officially established by a proclamation from President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916, but it wasn’t until Aug. 3, 1949 that President Truman signed at act of Congress designating June 14 each year as National Flag Day.
The idea of an annual day specifically celebrating the flag is believed to have originated in 1885 by a school teacher.
Nineteen-year-old Bernard J. Cigrand arranged for his students in Fredonia, Wis. to observe June 14 (the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes) as ‘Flag Birthday.’ He placed a 10-inch, 38-star flag in a bottle on his desk then assigned essays on the flag and its significance.
This observance was also the beginning of Cigrand’s long years of fervent and devoted effort to bring about national recognition and observance of Flag Day.
On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for the children of his school, and his idea of observing Flag Day was later adopted by the State Board of Education of New York. On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and on June 14 of the following year, the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution, celebrated Flag Day.
Following the suggestion of Colonel J Granville Leach (at the time historian of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution), the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America on April 25, 1893 adopted a resolution requesting the mayor of Philadelphia and all others in authority and all private citizens to display the Flag on June 14. Leach went on to recommend that thereafter the day be known as “Flag Day,” and on that day, school children be assembled for appropriate exercises, with each child being given a small Flag.
Two weeks later on May 8, the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution unanimously endorsed the action of the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames. As a result of the resolution, Dr. Edward Brooks, then Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia, directed that Flag Day exercises be held on June 14, 1893 in Independence Square. School children were assembled, each carrying a small Flag, and patriotic songs were sung and addresses delivered.
In 1894, the governor of New York directed that on June 14 the Flag be displayed on all public buildings. With Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn as the moving spirits, the Illinois organization, known as the American Flag Day Association, was organized for the purpose of promoting the holding of Flag Day exercises. On June 14, 1894, under the auspices of this association, the first general public school children’s celebration of Flag Day in Chicago was held in Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln, and Washington Parks, with more than 300,000 children participating.
On Flag Day this year, the NJROTC upperclassmen will be at a leadership academy in Nevada, Mo., followed by a basic leadership camp for the underclassmen.
“There we will have morning formation and greet every day with the national anthem and raise the flag to her glory height so that she may watch over us and guide us,” Jasper said. “We teach our cadets how to respect the flag because of the love for country; the customs and traditions which surround the proper display and use of our flag; and when the flag should be flown at half-mast and how to do it properly.”
With information from www.usflag.org and www.nationalflagday.com.