White signifies purity and innocence; Red, hardiness and valor; and Blue, the justice, vigilance, and perseverance of the United States of America.
These words describe the long standing established meaning for the colors of the American flag. While praiseworthy, those eloquent keywords actually describe the significance of the red, white and blue colors for the Seal of the United States, as attested to by the Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson upon the adoption of the Seal on June 20, 1782.
The American flag, adopted in a resolution by a Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, states: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field symbolizing a new constellation.” Unless an authenticated document is one day discovered hidden inside a dusty family heirloom, there is no official record of “why” the colors red, white, and blue were chosen to grace our nation’s flag.
The French fleet bottled up the British at Yorktown to assure a victory for General George Washington. A few historians have suggested the red, white and blue of the French flag were adopted for our American flag as a show of gratitude. Obviously these historians need to Google the history of France. The red, white and blue of the French flag came into being years after the American Revolution.
One theory with a spark of validity suggests the red, white and blue was actually adopted from our enemy’s flag (the British Union Jack) since most of our officers and men had fought under the Union Jack before the push for independence. Whatever the case, whatever the reason, American men and women have fought and died for Old Glory’s symbolism for almost 250 years. America remains the final bastion for freedom and the rights of the individual.
President Dwight Eisenhower once famously stated, “America was born of a Revolution, and that Revolution continues today.” Eisenhower was right on target. Democracy is a very noisy business. It even allows free speech and dissension to the point of burning Old Glory in protest of a perceived wrong from the same democracy that protects their right to torch the red, white and blue.
In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court declared all state and federal laws that prohibited desecration of the American flag as unconstitutional. There has not been a combat veteran on the Supreme Court for decades.
I disagree with the Supreme Court. Burning Old Glory to denounce the United States of America is behavior expected from a sworn enemy or foreign radicals without the slightest clue of what freedom represents. Burning the flag, in my opinion, is no longer a real ‘dissension,’ rather, a cheap trip to induce the news media into filming your protest. When a throng of Americans burn Old Glory in protest, they forfeit any support from yours truly, no matter what their cause.
William Carney understood the significance of Old Glory. When the flag bearer in his unit fell mortally wounded, Carney picked up the American flag and continued to lead the men of the Massachusetts 45th Regiment against Fort Wagner in South Carolina during the Civil War. Carney, an African-American, was the first soldier of his race to receive the Medal of Honor. His bravery was depicted in the movie “Glory.”
Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the Battle of Baltimore in 1815. His words did not become our National Anthem until 1931.
Absurd as it may appear, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited for the first time in the House of Representatives on Sept. 13, 1988. The U.S. Senate finally adopted a daily recital of the Pledge on June 24, 1999.
Before June 22, 1942, most students saluted the flag by extending their right hand, palm down. Congress changed the salute to the hand over the heart because the ‘old salute’ closely represented the “Heil Hitler” salute of Nazi Germany.
Seventeen-year-old high school student Bob Heft of Lancaster, Ohio designed the now well-known 50-star American flag as an 11th grade history project in 1958. For his efforts and patriotism, he received a B minus.
No historical evidence is in existence proving that Betsy Ross made the first American flag, nor that she assisted in its design.
Those are interesting tidbits concerning Old Glory. But tidbits are not indicative of the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for our flag. The six battle-hardened Marines hoisting the American flag atop Mount Suribachi symbolize a nation that is more than just another country. American exceptionalism has hit hard times, but Americans have been down before, and Old Glory does not remain in the ashes for long.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.