The Star-Spangled Banner. The Stars and Stripes. Old Glory. The United States flag has many nicknames, a storied history, and has become a symbol of the values of the nation. The U.S. celebrated Flag Day on Tuesday, and several area individuals and institutions found ways to honor the flag in the community.
A history of Flag Day
The Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center and Museum, the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society and the Colonel George Waller Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution partnered with the General Joseph Martin and Patrick Henry chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for the annual Flag Day ceremony.
W.C. Fowlkes, a member of the Historical Society Board, recounted the history of the American flag and the origins of Flag Day.
Though there are a number of origin stories, “this is the most likely one as we know today.”
In Jun 1977, Congress passed a resolution regarding the design of the flag,” he said.
That resolution stated, “that the flag of the United States shall be of thirteen stripes of alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white in a blue field, representing the new constellation.”
Fowlkes said that a flag of that design was first carried into battle on Sept. 11, 1777, in the Battle of the Brandywine. “The American flag was first saluted by foreign naval vessels on Feb. 14, 1778, when the Ranger, bearing the stars and stripes and under the command of Capt. Paul Jones arrived in a French port.”
The first time the flag flew over a foreign territory was in early 1778 at Nassau in the Bahamas, where Americans had captured a British Fort, he said.
Though there have been many claims to the first official observance of Flag Day, Fowlkes said, “all but one took place more than an entire century after the flag’s adoption in 1777.”
In 1893, the Society of Colonial Dames, led by President Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, succeeded in getting a resolution passed to have the flag displayed on all public buildings in Philadelphia. The group also tried to get the city to call June 14 Flag Day, however, “resolutions by women were not granted much notice,” Fowlkes said, and it was not until May 7, 1937, that Pennsylvania became the first state to establish the June 14 Flag Day as a legal holiday.
“Flag Day is a nationwide observance today, but Pennsylvania is still the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday,” Fowlkes said.
Though President Woodrow Wilson and President Calvin Coolidge both issued proclamations asking for June 14 to be observed as National Flag Day, Congress did not approve the national observance until Aug. 3, 1949. It was signed into law by President Harry Truman.
DAR member Linda Hager provided those in attendance with a brief history of the pledge of allegiance which, she said, was written by Francis Bellamy and first given wide publicity through an official program of the National Public Schools Celebration of Columbus Day, printed in 1892. It was also sent out to schools nationwide.
“School children first recited the pledge of allegiance this way,” she said. “’I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1923, the phrase “my flag” was replaced with “the flag of the United States” because, she said, “some foreign-born people might have in mind the flag of the country of their birth” rather than the U.S. flag. A year later, the phrase “of America” was added after “United States.”
On Flag Day in 1954, Congress added the words “under God” after “one nation” and the pledge as it is known today was completed.
Originally, Hager said, “the pledge was said with the hand in the so-called Bellamy Salute, with the hand resting first outward from the chest, then the arm extending out from the body.” She extended her arm in a demonstration of the salute. “Once Hitler came to power in Europe, some Americans were concerned that this position of the arm and hand resembled the salute rendered by the Nazi military,” and in 1942, Congress established the current practice of placing the right hand over the heart during the pledge.
DAR member Melina Penn led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Beverly Woody led the audience in a recitation of the American Creed.
“I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” she intoned. “Whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign nation among many sovereign states; a perfect union … established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed.”
At the conclusion of the creed, Deborah Burgess came forward and the crowd raised their voices with her to sing the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” conjuring up images of rockets glowing red and bombs bursting overhead as the stars and stripes of the flag continued to wave “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Lynn Berry concluded the ceremony with a reading of the poem, “I Am the Flag” by Ruth Apperson Rous.
“Today fifty stars signal from my union, one for each of the fifty sovereign states in the greatest constitutional republic the world has ever known,” Berry read. “My colors symbolize the patriotic ideals and the spiritual qualities of the citizens of my country. My red stripes proclaim the fearless courage and integrity of American men and boys and the self-sacrifice and devotion of American mothers and daughters. My white stripes stand for liberty and equality for all. My blue is the blue of Heaven, loyalty, and faith.”
As the poem reached its end, Berry read, “Americans, I am the sacred emblem of your country. I symbolize your birthright, your heritage of liberty purchased with blood and sorrow. I am your title deed of freedom, which is yours to enjoy and hold in trust for posterity … Eternal vigilance is the price of your freedom. As you see me silhouetted against the peaceful skies of my country, remind yourself that I am the flag of your country, that I stand for what you are—no more, no less.”
Chamber of Commerce
The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce hosted its Flag Day celebration, which included a ceremonial flag raising performed by Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady and Lt. Ben Peters.
“The United States has seen 27 different versions of Old Glory in the many years since 1777 when the original flag with 17 stars and 17 stripes was designed. However, the current flag is the first to have lasted more than 50 years and was designed by a 17-year-old high school student,” said Uptown Entrepreneurial Development Manager Kimberly Keller-Bonacci.
Keller recognized two organizations who “make patriotism a priority,” the Martinsville Exchange Club and WoodmenLife.
“The Martinsville Exchange Club’s members are dedicated to placing American flags throughout Uptown Martinsville during many patriotic holidays such as Flag Day,” Keller-Bonacci said. “This club has members dedicated to honoring our flag, our nation, and our community while also showcasing the beauty of Uptown Martinsville.
Though the primary operations of WoodmenLife “do not include patriotic holidays, they make patriotism a priority,” she said. “Since their founding in 1890, this organization has provided opportunities to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy and thank those who protect them,” including through a flag donation program to local nonprofits, schools, and communities.
Scott Koebel of WoodmenLife said the company began presenting flags in 1947 and has donated over 3.5 million to date.
“I wanted to touch base on that 17-year-old boy” who designed the flag Keller-Bonacci mentioned. “He needed a history project, and he designed a 52-star flag, a 51-star flag, and a 50-star flag and he got a B- on his project.”
Koebel inquired about the low grade and was told that if the design became the next flag, his grade would change to an A.
“He worked with his local congressman in Ohio, and he got it approved,” Koebel said. “They did change his grade. On July 4, 2007, this flag became the oldest standing flag in American history.”
Following the dedication ceremony, members of the community were afforded the opportunity to spin a prize wheel for the chance to win Uptown Bonus Bucks, movie passes, and a number of other prizes including a curio cabinet provided by The Showroom.
Out with the old, in with the new
Martinsville City Council member Danny Turner distributed newly-purchased flags to businesses in need of a new one.
He and Blue Ridge Regional Library Director Rick Ward lowered the tattered, faded flag flying in front of the library’s main Martinsville branch and, careful to not let it touch the ground, attached and raised a new one.
Turner placed his hand over his heart as Ward raised the new flag up into the blue June sky.
Turner also made stops at Berry Elliott Realtors to replace a worn flag, and left one with Marine Corps veteran Clifton Barrow, who is opening up the new restaurant, Roosky’s Bar and Grill, in Uptown in the coming months.
Council member Tammy Pearson joined Turner at the DAR ceremony at the historic courthouse to donate a flag to anyone there who wanted one to fly at their home or business.
Turner said the flags that were replaced would be turned over to the Boy Scouts or AmVets for them to properly retire the faded and torn star spangled banners.