Flag Day, June 14: Because it’s not a painted rag

OKEECHOBEE — June 14 is not a federal holiday, not even a day off for many of us.

But it is significant and we should gather in Flagler Park to salute Old Glory and to commemorate the day our flag, the star-spangled banner, was officially adopted as the symbol of our nation.

Judge Jerald “Jerry” Bryant wrote this tribute in honor of the June 14, 2018, Flag Day Ceremony.

We do this on June 14 because that is the day the Second Continental Congress passed this brief resolution in 1777, less than one year after the birth of our nation:

“Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

In 1818, to address the increased number of states, Congress enacted the Flag Act, which provides that the original 13 stripes shall remain as symbols of the original 13 colonies and that a white star shall be added for each new state admitted to the Union.

Then in 1916, over 139 years after the flag was officially adopted, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed and officially established June 14 as Flag Day, suggesting “that it should this year and in the years to come be given special significance as a day of renewal and reminder, a day upon which we should direct our minds with a special desire of renewal to thoughts of the ideals and principles of which we have sought to make our great Government the embodiment.”

Flag Day is not an official federal holiday and relies upon a Presidential proclamation each year. Despite that, we should use this day as President Wilson suggested – a day of renewal and reminder of the ideals and principles our flag represents.

Why is our flag so important to us? Our flag stands for who and what we are. It is so much more than a flag. Many military veterans and other patriotic Americans can describe it, but many of us have trouble explaining why we get a feeling of pride and a lump in our throat when we hear the National Anthem or see the color guard leading a parade. Others have explained it profoundly over the years.

The poet, Walt Whitman, described the flag’s importance so eloquently in his 1865 poem, “The Song of the Banner at Day-Break,” in which a child disagrees with his father about the flag he sees flying:

Father, what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?
And what does it say to me all the while?
….
O father it is alive—it is full of people—it has children!
O now it seems to me it is talking to its children!
I hear it—it talks to me—O it is wonderful!
O it stretches—it spreads and runs so fast!—O my father,
It is so broad, it covers the whole sky!

Henry Ward Beecher, a New York minister in an address to a regiment preparing to head into a Civil War battle in 1861, stressed the importance of our flag: “Our flag carries American ideas, American history and American feelings. Accept it, then, in all its fullness of meaning. It is not a painted rag. It is a whole national history. It is the Constitution. It is the government. It is the free people that stand in the government on the Constitution. Forget not what it means; and for the sake of its ideas, be true to your country’s flag.”

But probably the best description of Old Glory was given by Robin Williams in 1982, when he took on the persona of our flag in his comic monologue “The American Flag,” ending on a serious note saying:

“Look at it this way. Don’t look at it as saluting me. Look at it as saluting yourselves. You know, hey, I’m just a flag, a symbol. You’re the people. If I may say so from here, ‘Long may YOU wave.’”

Yes, long may WE wave and may we ever respect and commemorate our American flag and all that it embodies for us. On June 14, let’s renew and remind ourselves to be true to our flag.

By Jerry Bryant
Okeechobee County Judge

Editor’s note: The Okeechobee community will honor Flag Day on Thursday, June 14 with a special ceremony at 9 a.m. at the Memorial Park in downtown Okeechobee.

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