Beyond Words

Words, Wit and Wisdom for Today's Style and Decision Makers

And Our Flag is Still There June 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 7:46 am

And Our Flag is Still There

Happy “Flag Day” everyone!  Did you even know today, June 14, is Flag Day…every year?  What are we really celebrating anyway?  Seems we’re all very familiar with the Fourth of July, traditionally celebrated as America’s birthday, but a whole day just to celebrate our nation’s flag?  That, my friends, is a whole different story.

 Many believe the first “Flag Day” was celebrated in 1885, but the holiday as we know it today commemorated the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 and was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. Still, it was not until August 3, 1949, that President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.

 What’s up with those stars and stripes?

No one knows with absolute certainty who designed the first flag or even who made it. Many believe Congressman Francis Hopkinson designed it, and it’s widely believed Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, produced the first one.

Until the Executive Order of June 24, 1912, however, neither the order of the stars nor the proportions of the flag were set in stone. How it looks today came about through several official acts.   On June 14, 1777, he first Flag Act of the Continental Congress established an official flag for the new nation made up of 13 stripes alternating in red and white, and a union of 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.  Much later, on August 21, 1959, an Executive Order of President Dwight Eisenhower  provided for the arrangement of nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and 11 rows of stars staggered vertically.

Give it respect

The U.S. Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to our nation’s flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. They include:

  • The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
  • The flag should not be used as a drapery, for covering a speaker’s desk or platform, for draping a platform, or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use.
  • The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.

The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.

When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

Note: Most American Legion Posts regularly conduct a dignified flag burning ceremony, often on Flag Day, June 14th. Many Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, and Girl Scout Troops retire flags regularly as well. Contact your local American Legion Hall or Scout Troop to inquire about the availability of this service.


Displaying the Flag Outdoors

When the flag is displayed from a staff (pole) projecting from a window, balcony, or building, the union (stars area) should be at the top of the staff unless the flag is at half staff.

When displaying the flag against a wall whether vertically or horizontally, the flag’s union should be at the top, to the flag’s own right and the observer’s left.

When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east.  

When flown with flags of states, communities, or societies on separate flag poles that are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor – to its own right.  The other flags may be smaller but none may be larger.  No other flag ever should be placed above the American flag.

When flown with the national banner of other countries, each flag must be displayed from a separate pole of the same height and flag should be the same size. 

Raising and Lowering the Flag

When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.

When flown with flags of states or communities, the U.S.flag is always the first flag raised and the last one lowered.  When flown with flags of other countries, all flags should be raised and lowered simultaneously.

The U.S. flag should be raised briskly and lowered slowly and ceremoniously. Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset and should be illuminated if displayed at night.  As it is hoisted and lowered, the flag is saluted.  The salute is held until the flag is unsnapped from the halyard or through the last note of music, whichever is the longest.

The Salute

To salute our flag, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute while citizens not in uniform place their right hand over their heart.  Head covers should be removed and held over left shoulder with hand over the heart.

The Flag in Mourning

The flag is to be flown at half staff in mourning upon presidential or gubernatorial order.

To place the flag at half staff, hoist it to the peak for an instant and lower it to a position half way between the top and bottom of the staff. The flag is to be raised again to the peak for a moment before it is lowered.

When used to cover a casket, the flag should be placed with the union at the head and over the left shoulder. It should not be lowered into the grave.

Pledging allegiance

On September 8, 1892, the Boston based “The Youth’s Companion” magazine published a few words for students to repeat on Columbus Day of that year. Written by Francis Bellamy, the words were reprinted on thousands of leaflets and sent to public schools across the country. On October 12, 1892, the Quadricentennial of Columbus’ arrival, more than 12 million children recited this “Pledge of Allegiance,” beginning a required school-day ritual.

It was not, however, until 1942 that Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance.  One year later, in June 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it.  Today only half of our 50 states have laws encouraging the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.

In June of 1954 an amendment was made to add the words “under God” by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

The Pledge of Allegiance should be rendered by standing at attention, facing the flag, and saluting.

And the flag was still there

In a time when as many as two out of three Americans do not know the words to our national anthem, maybe it’s time to revisit just where all those unfamiliar words came from and how they relate to our flag.

In short, Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key wrote the poem “Defense of Fort McHenry,” which was later put to the tune of John Stafford Smith’s song “The Anacreontic Song” and retitled “The Star Spangled Banner.”  The song slowly spread throughout the United States, gaining acceptance by citizens and the military alike until finally, in 1931, President Herbert Hoover declared the song to be the official national anthem of the United States.

It all goes back to the War of 1812 and Britain’s attempts to regulate American shipping and other activities.  At the star-shaped Fort McHenry and during heated battles between the two countries, Commander Major George Armistead asked for a flag so big that “the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance.”  

One night, young Key was on board a ship in the harbor watching the British bombardment of the Fort, which lasted through the night.  Key was said to “know” the U.S. would win the war if the flag could be seen above the Fort at daybreak.  The flag was indeed still flying when the sun rose, inspiring Key to write his famous words.

That very flag went on view for the first time on January 1, 1876 at the Old State House inPhiladelphia for our nation’s Centennial celebration.  It now resides in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  An opaque curtain shields the now fragile flag from light and dust. The flag is exposed for viewing for a few moments once every hour during museum hours.  In addition, since May 30, 1949, a flag has flown continuously over the monument marking the site of Francis Scott Key’s birthplace, Terra Rubra Farm inKeymar,Maryland.

The actual copy that Key wrote in his hotel on September 14, 1814 remained in the Nicholson family for 93 years but was sold to Henry Walters of Baltimore. In 1934, it was bought at auction inNew York from the Walters estate by the Walters Art Gallery of Baltimore for $26,400.  The Walters Gallery sold the manuscript in 1953 to the Maryland Historical Society for the same price. Another copy that Key wrote is in the Library of Congress.

Today, when the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note.

That’s a great question!

Q:  Why is the flag patch “backwards” on military uniforms?

A:  According to the Department of Defense website, when authorized for application to a proper uniform, the American flag patch is to be worn so the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right.  When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the oberver’s right and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.

Q:  What exactly is a “rampart” mentioned in our national anthem?

A:  The definition of a rampart is “the defensive wall of a castle or city.”  In the instance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” most believe Francis Scott Key was talking about the walls surrounding Fort McHenry.

Q:  What’s the difference between “half staff” and “half mast?”

A:  Both Merriam-Wesbster and defer any definition of “half-staff,” advising readers to “see half-mast,” defined as “the position about halfway up a mast or pole at which a flag is flown as a symbol of mourning for the dead or as a signal of distress.  Also called half-staff.”  Neither definition makes any reference to the use of half-mast as a nautical term, although U.S. law and military tradition indicate that “half-mast” is generally reserved to usage aboard a ship, where flags are typically flown from masts.

One last word

In yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, columnist Ken Herman reported that in 2011, $3.6 million worth of American flags were imported from other countries, with the vast majority ($3.3 million) coming from, yes, China.  Although that amount is a small percentage of the $55 million in total annual sales of made in the good ole’  USA flags, it’s still somewhat embarrassing.  Please, please, please make sure the American flag you buy is actually made in America!


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