A Patriotic Symbol of Our Nation’s Honor & Glory
Since it was first designed, the American flag has seen and weathered much. It has been a symbol of hope, strength, courage, and faith. As every grade school child “pledges allegiance to it,” however, it may behoove them to feel on an even deeper level just how significant it is.
When Betsy Ross designed the American flag in 1777, the Revolution was still in its nascensy, and it was a pure tossup as to whether it would succeed. The American flag, then with its 13 stars (each one representing a colony) and 13 stripes gave the patriots a new confidence, and it rivaled the “Union Jack,” in its beauty. From then on, the American flag would be a staple in each battle, and may have been the only beautiful thing the exhausted colonists, with tattered clothes, and many without shoes, would carry onto the field. Eventually, victory would be theirs, and the entire world would come to recognize the importance of the stars and stripes.
Another milestone for the American flag was in the War of 1812. After seeing the British Royal Navy inflicts severe damage on Fort McHenry, on the Chesapeake Bay, poet Francis Scott Key was amazed to see that the flag still flew. This inspired him to write the now famous “Star Spangled Banner,” which would be forever connected from then on with the American flag.
During the American Civil War, both sides showed a reverence for the American flag. The North, which never considered the South truly gone, still kept 34 states on their flag. The South, which believed that it held to the vision of the Founding Fathers, had a flag that somewhat resembled the American flag. It bore the same colors, 13 stars, (they hoped throughout the War that Missouri and Kentucky would be added to their 11 states) and, especially pronounced in early versions, 3 stripes.
In 1892, another familiar tradition began when Boston Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy wrote the “Pledge of Allegiance.” From Columbus Day of that year onward, when President Benjamin Harrison recited it for the first time, the pledge has been forever connected with the American flag. Today, every morning, school children around the country recite, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”
For those immigrating to America through Ellis Island during this time, reciting the Pledge became a requirement. Seeing the American flag as a sign of hope and prosperity however, many of them were happy to do so, if at times in somewhat broken English.
One of the American flag’s most memorable moments came in 1954. That year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, out of a concern for the atheism being spread by the Soviet Union, decided to counteract this by adding the words , “under God,” to the phrase, “One nation, indivisible,” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Although most Americans have consistently supported the acknowledgement of God, it has not been without controversy.
The American flag has changed 28 times over the years, each as a new state was being welcomed into the Union. The shortest time without a change was from July 4th, 1959, when Alaska became a state to July 3rd, 1960, when Hawaii became one. The current duration of 49 years has been by far the longest.
In recent years, as a sign of America’s importance in world affairs, other counties have immolated America in their own flags. Some examples of this are Liberia, Malaysia, Tongo, and the Marshall Islands. This is a sign that they too value the ideals of freedom, independence, and liberty that the American flag has come to identify.
The American flag often holds a special place to veterans of foreign wars, many of whom went through tremendous trials to protect freedom. Sometimes, at patriotic events, these veterans can be seen tearing up as they pledge allegiance to it.
There is also a special etiquette surrounding the American flag, known to many civil servants, and those in the military. The most well known of these rules is that the American flag should never touch the ground. It should also never dip towards anything, as this would be a symbolic gesture of its inferiority to that thing. When a flag has become worn out, it is to be burned rather than thrown away, as this is considered more dignified.
Perhaps the greatest symbol of honor that can be given to a respected American who has fallen is to fly the American flag at half mast. This practice has commemorated the losses of Presidents, First Ladies, service men, Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, and all sorts of other important Americans. Interestingly, at many colleges and universities, if a faculty member has fallen, they have a similar practice of flying the American flag at half mast. Interestingly, this is also a practice that has been picked up by many colleges and universities across America. When a faculty member passes away, they will often wave their own flags at half mast to honor his memory.
The American flag has come a long way since Betsy Ross threaded the first one in 1777. Like the country it represents, it has grown, changed, and developed. Nonetheless, it has continued to be a visible symbol to much of the world of prosperity, hope, and all that is possible if a dream is given flight.