Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flag Day, History, Meaning and Reflection-If You Can Keep It

Today is Flag Day! I've been doing Flag Day posts the last few years, so I'm always looking for a new idea to share.Well this year I get to relate it to an all new great book, If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas! Reading his book definitely gave me some new ideas to think through!
Arlington House
Arlington House, Arlington National Cemetery,Virginia

Not meant to be a federal holiday, the day was established to encourage everyone to fly their American flags!

Boston 1 (2)
Boston Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

In our family we fly the American flag every single day!

Our First Apartment

We did back home when I was growing up too!

Base Housing

Why only fly the flag on patriotic holidays? Why not every day?
Home Today

But Flag Day is just makes the event more special because everyone is focused on it, right? Except...we only saw a few flags flying today. Perhaps they forgot or they weren't aware what the day was about.  An even sadder is a story that a friend once told us. This friend refuses to fly the American flag because he does not agree with the government. I was a bit flabbergasted to hear this, because I know this guy knows his history. I don't agree with everything in the government either, but that is even more reason for me to fly the flag. The flag is not about the people who sit in government office buildings in Washington DC. The flag is about us! The people! The government is to answer to us, the people. That is how the Founding Fathers designed our government, so that it would answer to the people. The flag is a representation of our duty..."if we can keep it."

Eric Metaxas has a great story of Flag Day when he was a young boy in his newest book, If You Can Keep It. Like all of his stories, it is compelling. In fact, it is part of his chapter on "Loving America."

"...we often forget why we are celebrating..." (Metaxas, 238)

"...our fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Saul, told us we were all going outside to celebrate Flag Day. I'd never heard of Flag Day..." (Metaxas, 239) And thus begins the beginning of Metaxas' story of how he learned about Flag Day and what it means to him today. We all have similar stories. We all begin somewhere, to better know and understand our history.

When my brother and I were young, he had a Little Golden book on American flags that I was especially taken with. However most of what I've learned about flags has been since I've moved to Virginia. Being surrounded by historical reenactors has taught me a lot.  

Historically, banners began on the battlefield for the soldiers to be able to identify their units and leadership. Being the source of corps morale, the flag bearer through the ages had a most important job of keeping the flag flying in the midst of flying arrows, smashing clubs, the swish of swords, the shot of bullets, and the roar of cannon. Confusion reigned but the flag, while flying high, kept a unit organized and motivated to keep fighting. The flag bearer had a most perilous job, in that one of the goals of the enemy was to seize the flag in order to bust morale and create confusion in the ranks. Most certainly a trophy of honor was to capture the enemy's flag.  (And how do I know all this? Because I was part of an interactive experience at Colonial Williamsburg that taught all of this. You can read about that experience here, and see captured battle flags here.)

Because America began as British colonies, they flew the British flag for years. Debates between the colonists and Parliament began in 1765 as rights to representation in government began to crumble. After ten years of debate, out of control tempers caused shots to be fired and in 1776 independence was declared. During the opening battles of the American Revolution the flag representing America was most likely one with red and white stripes with a Union Jack in the left field. Being the symbol of Great Britain, the Union Jack caused confusion on the battlefield. Furthermore the flag implied the desire to re-unite with Great Britain. Although that was the goal previous to 1776, by July of that year all ties with Britain had been irreparably severed. A new flag to symbolize the free and independent states of America was imperative.

I'm Showcasing the Different Flags During an American Revolution History Presentation

On June 14, 1777, Congress wrote, "“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, representing a new constellation.”

When Washington was inaugurated as first president of our country, Mrs. Robert Livingston made  this silk and lace flag for the event. Her husband officiated at the ceremony.

Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland

Even if the battle information previously offered might be new to many, most of us will remember another story that will help to make things clear. This is the story of the famous battle flag in American history...from the War of 1812. Whether the banner remained flying or fell was not only pertinent to moral but also indicative to victory...or loss.  Francis Scott Key heard the booms of distant cannon balls through the night. "By dawn's early light" he sought for one thing. A flag. The American flag. Could it possibly still be flying after the barrage of the mighty British?

"O say does that star spangled banner yet wave..."

And thus his scribbled notes became our national anthem. We know the story. It relates to history. Flags provide identity. Courage. Morale. Strength.

A couple of years ago I got to help stitch a reproduction of the Star Spangled Banner flag. The museum hosting the opportunity had a grand idea, allowing the public to come and help stitch a reproduction of this momentous flag. I stood in line as many people before me placed their stitches. While I had my turn, many, many people stood in line to await their moment of history.

Here I am Stitching with the Maryland Historical Society

Special events help us to remember our history...because sometimes we take it for granted.

One day while at Fort McHenry, my family and I watched a  movie presentation of the Star Spangled Banner. At the end the screen lifts and now we see the humongous picture window, through which we can see the Star Spangled Banner (a reproduction) flying grandly against a brilliant blue sky. Meanwhile, the music four our national anthem grandly begins with the recorded voices of a men's quartet. Normally, my entire family stands to join the singing, anytime at any place. When we drove to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado, we stood and sang "America the Beautiful" while looking over the "fruited plain." After all, the song was inspired by that very view. We had to do it! But this time I had been separated from my family. As the crowd began to leave, I timidly, yet boldly, stood and sang that anthem with the recorded voices of the men's quartet. When the crowd heard my voice and saw me singing, they chose to stay as well. They turned around to face the flag waving proudly outdoors. I don't know if they actually joined me in singing the words, but at least they took a moment to remember...

Just little moments like these can make a difference. Eric Metaxas speaks to that in his book, in his chapter on "Loving America." "It is about coming together as a people over those things that truly bind us together." (Metaxas, 223) The entire chapter totally moved me, caused me to think deeply, and reconsider a few things in my life. It's powerfully moving.

Did you know that Flag Day began in 1885 because of a school teacher who wanted his students to know their history? He chose the anniversary of the day the American flag was adopted by the Continental Congress, June 14. Decades later, it became official, but in the meantime the teacher kept celebrating every year with his students. That motivated others to carry the torch, and they motivated more people to carry the torch, until it finally became a national observance in our country.

In fact, I got to see Eric Metaxas speak to some of this tonight on his show, Socrates in the City. It was live on his facebook page. Here's the link so you can see the video. It was wonderful! And Flag Day came up more than once...because this day that is very special to him also happened to be the big day of his book release. That means, If You Can Keep It is available in bookstores now! Today was the big day!  How special is that? If You Can Keep It is available at Amazon. You can also read more about it at Metaxas' web site.

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