People tend to know why the American flag is proudly waving all over town on most national holidays. If a Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day arrived and Old Glory wasn't displayed prominently, people would know something was amiss.
Ironically, most of us need to check the calendar to remind ourselves why flags are out and about every June 14 -- Flag Day.
For a condensed history lesson, Flag Day simply commemorates the date the Continental Congress adopted the official national symbol back in 1777. The legislation was concise: "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."
That June 14th -- 236 years ago -- was less than a year after the Declaration of Independence. It was four years before the Articles of Confederation were adopted, and 10 years before the Constitutional Convention took place.
It wasn't until 108 years later a Wisconsin school teacher was reported to have had the first celebration of the flag's birthday. According to the National Flag Day Foundation, Bernard John Cigrand put a U.S. flag at the front of his classroom and had his students write an impromptu essay on what the flag meant to them. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson called for a nationwide observance of Flag Day. And in 1949, President Harry Truman signed into law legislation designating every June 14th as National Flag Day.
The flag has varied in the number of stripes and stars through the years, but the symbolic colors have remained the same. Red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white is purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. Today's incarnation has 13 stripes for the original colonies and 50 stars for the individual states.
Whether saluting the Stars and Stripes, holding one's hand over the heart, or taking one's hat off in its presence, most Americans have not lost track of what the flag represents -- freedom and liberty. Likewise, most of us know the lyrics of our national anthem: "Star Spangled Banner" written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. Well, at least until we're put on the spot in front of a crowd. Then the memory can get a little hazy.
In honor of Flag Day, we offer the lyrics to another song written about Old Glory. It was penned by George M. Cohan in 1906 for the stage musical "George Washington Jr."
You're a Grand Old Flag
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
Happy Flag Day. You might not have the day off, but at least you know why all the American flags are flying in front of all those houses.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry