A tribute to our symbol - The Explorer: Voices

A tribute to our symbol

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Posted: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:34 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Although there are only seven national holidays per year, it seems as if there are more because of the marketing hype and minimized focus on the actual purpose for each day of commemoration.

Many people are likely looking toward July 4th and haven't considered a significant day falling in between — Flag Day. Few people know the date of this rather obscure tribute, and the history of it.

The national flag is a symbol of our country, and a visual reminder of past history and expectations for the future. Surprisingly, the American flag has changed designs more times than any other nation's flag.

The first flag, the Grand Union, was flown at the headquarters of the Continental Army on Jan. 1, 1776. Betsy Ross, a seamstress and upholstery business owner in Pennsylvania, receives primary credit for its original design. Legend insists that she showed George Washington how to make a five-pointed star, and suggested 13 stars in a circle for the first flag.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress proposed the adoption of a United States national flag, replacing the British Union Jack. The national flag had 13 stars representing the 13 new states. During the War of 1812 between the British and Americans, a lawyer named Francis Scott Key saw an American flag that survived a battle in Baltimore Harbor, and was inspired to write the poem containing the words for the national anthem. He always associated it with the national flag.

But not until 1877 did public ceremonies commence honoring the Stars and Stripes. On June 14th of that year, the national flag was flown from all government buildings honoring the centennial of its formal adoption. The first official Flag Day was observed in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1893, with New York following suit and proclaiming June 14th as Flag Day in 1897. Other states lacked interest recognizing it, saying the date came too close to Memorial Day and Independence Day and would confuse the general public.

Controversy surrounded the day for years because the United States didn't actually have a standardized flag until 1912.

The American flag is one of the most complex flags of any nation, requiring 64 pieces of fabric for construction. There are 13 red and white alternating stripes representing the original 13 states, and 50 stars representing each state on a blue background.

In August 1949, President Harry S. Truman proclaimed June 14th as Flag Day. Since then each American President has proclaimed the commemoration annually, encouraging citizens to display the Stars and Stripes outside their homes and businesses.

In the late 1960s, American students across the country wore small flags sewn to the back of their pants, a symbolic insult to the American government and concurrent protest to the Vietnam War. They gathered in front of the Capitol Building in Washington and burned the American flag as a visual protest statement. In the early 1990s, senators offered an amendment to the Constitution making such treatment of the flag illegal. The legislation failed because many felt that this change violated Americans' constitutional rights for freedom of expression.

Rightly, Americans take the treatment of our flag seriously. Here are some general rules of etiquette for the American flag. Additional information is contained in the Federal Flag Code.

The flag is typically flown from sunrise to sunset.

The flag may be flown at night with proper illumination.

Only an all-weather flag should be flown in rain or inclement weather.

After a federally recognized tragedy or death the flag may be lowered. It's called "half staff" on land, "half mast" aboard ship.

When flown vertically on a pole, the stars and blue field is at the top and at the end of the pole away from a structure.

The American flag is always flown at the top of the pole, other flags fly below it. Flags of other nations may fly parallel to it on separate poles.

Never allow the flag to touch the ground.

Don't wear it as clothing.

Retire a worn-out flag by burying or burning it. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars can offer assistance.

Congress added an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, allowing veterans and active service members to salute the flag during all flag ceremonies.

Our national flag has a proud and glorious history; many people have died protecting it. Honor it proudly on Flag Day, as it represents our freedom and independence as a nation.

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