By Vicki A. Brady
Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light. What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
These words, penned on September 14, 1814 by 35 year-old lawyer, Francis Scott Key, were written on the back of letter after Key witness the bombardment of Ft. McHenry by British ships during the War of 1812. Key and his friend, John Stuart Skinner were on their way to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes, who was being held on suspicion of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner were detained aboard a British ship while the bombardment took place. Off and on, as the battle raged, they saw the smaller storm flag flying above the Fort. It wasn’t until early morning, when the smaller flag was replaced with the larger garrison flag, that Key knew the battle had been won. Originally titled Defense of Fort McHenry, music written by John Stafford Smith was added and by November of 1814 the name was changed to The Star Spangled Banner. Soon it was being sung in every pub and on every 4th of July – for the next 100 years. By 1918 efforts were underway to recognize it as the national anthem but differences of opinion stalled progress. Then, on March 4, 1931, The Star Spangled Banner was officially adopted as the national anthem of the United States. But, without the flag, there would be no song.
Not Just Fabric
Flags have been part of human cultures for thousands of years. While most were made of cloth, ancient flags were also made of bronze and wood. But it is not the material that gives a flag its worth, it is the symbolism and what the flag represents.
In the 2000 film, The Patriot starring Mel Gibson, the central figure was not a person, it was the flag and all it represented. Throughout the film, Gibson’s son, played by Heath Ledger, spends his off-duty hours, tediously sewing and repairing an American flag. Toward the end of the movie, after Ledger’s character dies, it is the flag that inspires a battle-weary group of soldiers to march on. When the overwhelmed militia begins to retreat, it is the flag that motivates the men to turn around and win the battle. If you take the flag out of the movie, it is empty. But it’s not the cloth that inspires, it is what it represents.
From One Comes Many
The first national flag of America was adopted in July 1776. It displayed England’s traditional Union Jack in the upper left corner with 13 red and white stripes alternating over the rest of the cloth. In January 1977, a Congressional resolution reorganizing the Continental Army, adopted a new design for the flag with replaced the Union Jack with 13 stars. Supposedly, Betsy Ross is credited with changing the 6-pointed star to a 5-pointed one and arranging them in a circle. While the origins of the early flags are still disputed, the intent and purpose of the flag is not. George Washington was quoted as saying, “We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty.”
On June 14, 1777, Congress officially authorized the American flag which is why that date is celebrated annually as Flag Day. Since its creation, the flag has been officially modified 26 times with the last modification made in July 1960 after Hawaii was added as the 50th State.
Freedom of Speech
Following the War Between the States, desecration of the flag led to 48 States passing laws to ban attacks on the flag. In 1907, the Supreme Court upheld laws prohibiting disrespecting the flag including publically burning, trampling, or spitting on it. But in 1972, the Supreme Court ruling was set aside, protecting the desecration of a flag, based on the free speech clause under the First Amendment. Numerous efforts to protect the flag have been launched since then, to no avail. Apparently, the freedoms that men and women have fought and died for, include the freedom to desecrate the flag; the symbol of their sacrifice.
Monday, May 28, 2018, Memorial Day, at 3:00 p.m., people are asked to and honor those who gave their lives in defense and support of our country. And if young people haven’t been taught why, it’s up to us to teach them. We’ve got a generation or so that have forgotten, but if we each do our small part, the next generation will remember.