Lecture No. 22 – June 2015


Our Flag

Jim Russell, Lecturer
Jim Russell, Lecturer

[dropcaps] E [/dropcaps]ach weekday morning at our household, the TV gets turned on, lately to check the weather so my wife can decide what to wear since she’s still teaching, and so I can get brought up to date with what is going on in the world.  I used to pay attention to the traffic reports but now, since I no longer have to venture forth, it is more like, “I’m glad I don’t have to go to work that route.”

I would have been stuck in that six-hour traffic tie up on Loop 12 last week.  I feel for you. I have noticed that the local news station sometimes points out that “Today is National ‘Something’ Day.”  Something like, “Take your Kid to Work Day,” or “Be Kind to Your Pet Day.”

Occasionally, a day has more than one theme.  Weeks also can have some special significance for one group or another and even months can be the same.  Someday, when it is pouring rain or snowing or too cold to spend much time outside. I’m going to make a calendar that lists all the “National Days, Weeks and Months” just so I don’t miss any of them.

Now, I am sure that somewhere such a calendar already exists.  Based on some of the emails I receive and Facebook, I know a lot of people have a lot of free time and such a worthwhile project must have been undertaken in the past.  I also have a suspicion that it would be a never ending task to keep up to date as new causes appear each day.  And, who decides if such a topic deserves to be a National Day of something?  Surely not our Congress.

Due to circumstances, I was not able to research my lecture for this evening. So, this is mostly from memory.  As I recall from my high school American History class, it was in the spring of 1777 that the Continental Congress determined that our cause needed a single banner to help unify our various efforts against the British.  Until Congress acted, each commander was free to adopt a banner of his own.  I believe that one of the Carolinas had a flag that showed a rattle snake divided into 13 pieces, one for each colony, with the phrase, “Don’t Tread on Me” across the bottom.  What I recall as the Bennington Flag had 13 red-and-white stripes with a blue field, known as the “Canton,” that contained 13 stars arranged in an arch around the numerals “76.”

flag-revolutionary-warAnother flag had the British Union Jack as the canton with the 13 stripes.  That one may have been used at the Battle of Bunker Hill, which really took place on Breed’s Hill.  Congress acted and, on June 14, 1777, decreed that the flag of the United States should consist of 13 alternating red-and-white stripes, representing the 13 colonies, and a blue canton containing 13 stars representing a new constellation taking its place among the family of nations.

News of this action arrived at Fort Bennington, which was under siege by the British.  The commander of the American forces asked some of the women to sew a new flag based on the news they had just received.  The only available fabric consisted of some old petticoats.  The Bennington Flag had seven white and six red stripes, and the stars were six-pointed stars because they were easier to make than the five-pointed stars we are used to seeing.  Congress later took further action to clarify the specifics of the design.

Legend tells us that General Washington asked Betsy Ross to sew the first flag.  It is a nice story for school children but unlikely.  The story didn’t come into being until well into the 1800s and was told by a descendant of Ms. Ross.  There is no evidence that indicates General Washington ever met Ms. Ross or even knew of her.

After the Revolution, as each new state was added to the union, a star and stripe was added to the flag.  Just before the War of 1812, Congress acted to revert the number of stripes back to the original 13.  Over the intervening 239 years, the flag has undergone over 40 changes. Many of us experienced the last two with the addition of the 49th star for Alaska and the following year the 50th star for Hawaii.  No single star represents any specific state.

We, as Americans, probably place more emphasis on our flag than any other country.  Our friends, the British, do not even have a national flag.  The Union Jack has never been officially adopted by Parliament.  It is a combination of the flags of three of the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom.  Personally, I think the Welsh are being neglected, but then, Wales has been part of England since 1166.

A few years ago, we had an exchange student from Germany and, as we were driving along Interstate 20 in Arlington, I asked her if Germany had flags similar to those at the various car dealerships we were passing.  She said that in Germany, usually only the government buildings had flags.  She thought that it might be a reflection of Germany’s involvement in the last war, and displaying the German flag could be interpreted at being “too nationalistic.”

patriotism-american-flagWe fly our flag just about everywhere.  Every major sporting event starts with the playing of our national anthem.  That wasn’t always the case, but sometime in the 1920s or 1930s it was played to start a World Series game, I think it was in Boston.  Within a few years, it had become common practice.  With the advent of television and the broadcasting of sporting events, the TV networks would usually use the time when the anthem was being played to run commercials.  That practice stopped with 9/11.  Also since 9/11, if it is a uniform, you will usually find a flag sewed on it.  Just about every football helmet – be it worn in the NFL, college, high school and even the Pop Warner teams – includes a flag sticker.

I would have put my flag out on Memorial Day, and it would have flown at least until Labor Day.  Fortunately, it was raining this Memorial Day and the flag was not put out.  It will be there next Memorial Day.  Until then, do me a favor and, if you have a flag, display it.

Our flag deserves respect and, as I mentioned last month, the Fourth Degree Assembly is planning a retirement ceremony for later this year.  If you have a flag, U.S. or Texas, that is torn or faded and in need of replacement, consider giving it to the Assembly for proper disposal.  Please check with neighbors, friends and family members for flags they might have that are candidates for this ceremony.