America’s Flag Day 30 Years in the Making

 

More commonly known as “Stars and Stripes”, “Star-Spangled Banner”, and “Old Glory”, the Flag of the United States received an official day of observance on August 3rd, 1949, when President Truman designated June 14th as National Flag Day. But, it wasn’t quite that easy…

One purpose of my blog is to foster understanding between the folks of America and Japan.  Most of my blog postings are about my trip to Japan. However, my readers also enjoy when I share an occasional blog about sights and life in the U.S.; this one about the history of America’s upcoming Flag Day, June 14th.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress (as the government was called at that time) adopted a flag with thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, one star for each of the founding colonies at that time. From that 13-star flag to the current 50-star flag, there have been 26 American flags.  Although it is not known exactly who, what, or when the notion of a ‘Flag Day’ got started, George Morris apparently suggested the occasion around 1861 (the Flag had 34 stars at that time). In addition, a schoolteacher named B.J. Cigrand also had the idea of an annual day to specifically celebrate the flag.  He arranged for his students to observe June 14, 1885 (38 stars) as ‘Flag Birthday’, on the 108th anniversary of the adoption of the Flag in 1777. He continued to advocate ‘Flag Day’ over the following years.

The idea was catching. Maybe you’ve heard of William T. Kerr who founded the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania in 1888 (still 38 stars).  Or, perhaps you’ve read about Elizabeth Duane Gillespie? She led an attempt to require the Flag be displayed on all Philadelphia’s public buildings.  She must have had an impact because Pennsylvania became the first state to make Flag Day a legal holiday.  Interestingly, Ms. Gillespie was a descendant of Benjamin Franklin.

And, there’s more…. In 1907 (45 stars and growing) the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (social club) designated June 14 as Flag Day. Three years later, the Grand Lodge of the Order of Elks adopted a mandatory observance of the occasion by every Lodge.  These grand, benevolent, and patriotic Elks even got President Woodrow Wilson to recognize their observance.

There were other efforts, too. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson was so inspired by a now 30-year ongoing effort to establish a ‘Flag Day’, that he established an anniversary for the Flag Resolution of 1777 by Presidential Proclamation in 1916 (48 stars).  Communities and individuals continued their annual celebrations, and in 1949 (still 48 stars), President Truman signed that famous Act of Congress that rewarded years of effort by patriotic citizens to establish a formal day to honor the Flag of the United States.

In addition, in 1966 (all 50 stars by then), Congress added that the whole week in which June 14 occurs would be “National Flag Week” and that the President issue an annual proclamation and call upon citizens to display the flag during that week.

There are even instructions and rules formalizing the ways in which citizens respect and use the flag. These are defined in the “Flag Code” as found in Title 4 of the United States Code. These rules include instruction on various topics such as the Pledge of Allegiance, proper display of the Flag, how to show respect for the Flag, and even how not to use the Flag.

So, Old Glory’s special day has a colorful history! This June 14 watch the flag as it waves the stripes representing the 13 original founding colonies. The stripes of red symbolize hardiness and valor, the stripes of white symbolize purity and innocence, and the field of blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice for each of the 50 stars (states) and the citizens thereof.

Moreover, the flag inspired America’s national anthem. It was after the  historical bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1812 when he saw the flag make it through the battle intact, the lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the four famous lyrics which later became America’s national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Don’t feel bad if you can’t sing it well! There are very few who can sing it’s pretty but difficult melody with a tune ranging 1 ½ octaves.

So remember these interesting facts when you see Old Glory waving from homes and businesses this Flag Day, or as you hoist the Stars and Stripes yourself. And, don’t forget to make your best effort in singing (or humming) the flag-inspired national anthem.  Happy Flag Day!

“The Star Spangled Banner”US flag photo

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

 

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