Archive for Thursday, June 11, 2009

Honoring the flag

June 11, 2009

All right, who can tell me what special day will be observed on Sunday, June 14?

I’m sure that some might scurry to the calendar for a quick look before answering “Flag Day.” A few might have been a bit confused and informed me that Father’s Day is the third Sunday in June, not the second.

That said, Sunday, June 14, is Flag Day. The date was set to honor a resolution passed by the Second Continental Congress adopting the official flag of the United States. Relatively few Americans recognize or observe the day.

That is understandable in some ways, since Flag Day isn’t an official federal holiday. While dating its beginning to the Civil War, it wasn’t until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation establishing June 14 as Flag Day. In 1949, Congress went a step further and set the observance of Flag Day. Now, according to one source I read, Flag Day is set each year at the president’s discretion.

While there are observances in all states, only Pennsylvania observes the day as an official state holiday.

I was surprised to find that the earliest reference to Flag Day was in “Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,” published in 1912. The publication stated that George Morris of Hartford, Conn., made the initial suggestion of a day to honor the flag. He persuaded Hartford to carry out a patriotic program. Not only did he want to honor the U. S. flag, he wanted support for the Union Army as the Civil War began to unfold. Maybe the pressures of the war hampered the continued observance but, for whatever reason, the idea didn’t take hold. After the war ended, it was almost two decades before the idea of honoring the flag on the day of its creation began to be accepted. Certainly, it took much longer in the south.

Most of the sources I checked suggested that Bernard J. Cigrand was the “Father of Flag Day.” He apparently was an outstanding public speaker and gave patriotic lectures throughout the United States. He is supposed to have given 2,188 speeches on patriotism and the flag.

He put together an observance of Flag Day by more than 300,000 children in 1894. Cigrand headed the American Flag Day Society.

Apparently, observances of the day sprang up in various areas of the United States during the late 1800s. Another Flag Day pioneer was William T. Kerr of Pennsylvania who began his efforts in 1888 and lived to attend the signing of the Act of Congress, setting Flag Day some 50 years later. He was present when President Truman signed the Congressional Act of congress in 1949.

Other pioneers included George Bolch and Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, both of whom organized early observances of Flag Day. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks became the first organization to celebrate Flag Day in 1907.

In general, there are few observances in our area. For the most part, patriotic celebrations are on hold until the Fourth of July. Still there are a few Flag Day parades in the United States, and the National Flag Day Foundation has a celebration on the second Sunday of June each year. Fittingly, the observance is at the Betsy Ross house in Philadelphia. In case you’ve forgotten, Ross is credited with sewing the first flag.

It seems to me there isn’t as much respect shown to the flag now. I think that some of the shrinking respect started during the 1960s and early 1970s with the Vietnam protests. I know that growing up during World War II, respect of the flag wasn’t just suggested, it was required.

Yes, we certainly need to respect the flag of our country and that is a worthwhile goal of Flag Day.

Maybe the best observance Sunday would be to fly your flag if you own one. If not, it might be a good day to purchase one. And, yes, we all could take a few moments to pause and think about the meaning of patriotism and the sacrifices made to insure our freedom.

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