15 June, 2008

Flag Day and My First Flag

When I was in college, I played the bagpipes with the University of Iowa Scottish Highlanders--and I was terrible. Just ask any of my roommates from that time period. And my parents, would you believe they actually showed up to one of my performances wearing ear plugs? (Although I really can't blame them too much; a dozen pipers in an enclosed auditorium are rather loud.)

Still, I had a blast. I loved playing them. And when I was a junior (the year John Goodman was the Grand Marshall), the entire band--pipers, dancers, and drummers--went down to New Orleans to march in the Endymion Parade, the largest of the 80 or so parades that take place during Mardi Gras week. (And no, I didn't flash myself to get beads--rude Endymion krewe members told me I didn't have much to flash, anyway. Phooey.)

I can't remember the reason why, but when it came time to step off, we were short a flag carrier. Usually, two of the dancers held a banner proclaiming who we were, and two others would hold the American and Scottish flags while the others danced. Well, we could only carry one flag in that parade, and I advocated for it to be the St. Andrew's Cross, a white cross on a blue field which represented the patron saint of Scotland. A few of the older band members--we did not limit membership to just students, anyone in the community could join and I think the oldest people were in their 40s--were horrified that I would select the Scottish flag over the American flag. But we were a Scottish bagpipe band, and I was a young and perhaps naive 21-year-old whose heart had never truly been stirred by the Flag and all it represented.

We ended up carrying the American Flag.

A lot has happened to me since then. I've traveled the world and been to over two dozen countries where I've seen the U.S. flag both celebrated and ridiculed, and sometimes even burned. I've found myself an unwitting spokesperson for what it is to be an American, and to try to explain, defend, and often apologize for my government's actions. Since college, I've witnessed a direct attack on our country, and the unbridled patriotism that swept us all in the aftermath of 9-11, and I've seen what has been an absolutely amazing Democratic primary this year where both an African-American man and a woman were the top contenders to be the party's candidate. What an amazing place we are privileged to live in.

I don't know what it is, but the older I get, the more I find that I love my country--warts and all. There are many things I'd like to change and see changed, of course; we're far, far from perfect. But in recent years, I find myself overly sentimental when I hear such things as James Cagney sing "It's a Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy." I end up a teary-eyed mess on the Fourth of July when The 1812 Overture is played (while this piece by Tchaikovsky has no historical connection with American history, it is often played along with Independence Day fireworks.)

So it should come as no surprise that last week, while shopping at Jewel, our local grocery store, I picked up a full-size American flag. We have a pole holder on the front of the house (placed by the previous owners) just begging for a flag, and I found just the one for it. Would you believe that it's my very first American flag ever? Crazy, eh?

So, as Mom reminded me this morning, today is Flag Day, and I took the opportunity to clamber up on the front porch and lean way the heck out there in order to put the flag in place. (Really, was this the best spot for the previous owners to put the holder? I might have to find a better, easier-to-access location.)

I knew Flag Day was celebrated each year, but I couldn't remember why, exactly. Why June 14th? The all-knowing Internet provided the answer. From the National Flag Day Foundation:

The Stars and Stripes, the official National symbol of the United States of America, was authorized by Congress on that Saturday of June 14, 1777 in the fifth item of the day's agenda. The entry in the journal of the Continental Congress 1774-1789 Vol. Vlll 1777 reads “Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be Thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

In Waubeka, Wisconsin, in 1885, Bernard John Cigrand, a nineteen-year-old school teacher in a one room school, placed a 10-inch, 38-star flag in an inkwell and had his students write essays on what the flag meant to them. He called June 14th the flag’s birthday. Stony Hill School is now a historical site. From that day on Bernard John Cigrand dedicated himself to inspire not only his students, but also all Americans in the real meaning and majesty of our flag.

Wikipedia adds

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.

Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, though on June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first (and only) U.S. state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday.

So, goofy, sentimental me was thrilled to be able to fly the flag today, Flag Day 2008. It was cool to see a few other older homes and bungalows in the neighborhood flying them, too.


Andy said...

Well, now I'm mad I missed Flag Day yesterday.

I got my first flag last year for Memorial Day, and I stuck it in one of my giant pots of dirt on my condo balcony for the occasion. Here, I'll have to install a flagpole holder somewhere, as the PO didn't.

Joanne said...

I've printed up a list of flag holidays and tacked it on my bulletin board so I won't miss any (looks like I already missed Father's Day. Next one's Independence Day).

They include:

January 1

January 15

January 20

February 12

February 22


Second Sunday in May

Third Saturday in May

May 30

June 14

Third Sunday in June

July 4

First Monday in September

September 17

October 12

November 11

Fourth Thursday in November

December 25

Other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States.

Birthday's of States (dates of admission)

All State and Local Holidays
All Election Days