Old Glory still dances in the skies outside our restaurants, courthouses, city halls, and elsewhere. The symbol of patriotism continues to be hung in windows, affixed to poles that stand at attention from front porches, and waved from the clenched tiny fists of children at parades and similar events.
But Flag Day — which is today, by the way — has largely become a thing of the past in Duluth, reflecting a troubling national decline in patriotism, unity, and reverence for our history and our shared struggle for freedom.
For more than 30 years, Elks fraternal group members in Duluth hosted and put on ceremonies for Flag Day — every year on June 14. They led us in marking the day set aside for honoring the Stars and Stripes. But there hasn’t been such an event since probably the late 1990s, according to Duluth Honor Guard Capt. John Marshall.
“It’s sad. Today, there is not the same love of country,” Marshall said in a phone interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “I’ve folded thousands of flags, literally thousands of flags. I’ve presented thousands of flags (at military funerals). And, you know, that symbol of ours is probably the most beautiful thing. … I love that symbol. It represents so many things.”
Its colors: red for the blood spilled for our country, white for purity and justice, and blue for our union created under the heavens, said Marshall. Other sources indicate the red is for hardiness and valor; white for purity and innocence; and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. There’s little disagreement that its 13 stripes are for the 13 original colonies and 50 stars for our 50 states.
It was on June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress took a break from writing the Articles of Confederation to pass a resolution indicating a new U.S. flag would have those 13 stripes of red and white and 13 white stars on a blue field to represent a new constellation — our new nation. Prior to that, according to History.com, the different colonies fought under their own individual flags in the American Revolution.
President Woodrow Wilson, in 1916, marked the anniversary of the Second Continental Congress’ resolution by establishing June 14 as Flag Day. According to History.com, the holiday originated with Wisconsin schoolteacher Bernard Cigrand who, on June 14, 1885, led his school in our nation’s first formal observance.
A congressman named Francis Hopkinson claimed to design the U.S. flag. But in 1870, William J. Canby said his grandmother, Betsy Ross, made the first one, a claim now disputed by historians and a lack of evidence. Ross was a Philadelphia seamstress who repaired uniforms and sewed tents during the Revolutionary War.
The “Stars and Stripes” is a popular name for the U.S. flag, though no one knows where the moniker originated. Francis Scott Key first called the flag the “Star-Spangled Banner'” in 1814 when he wrote the poem that became our national anthem. And William Driver, a sea captain from Salem, Massachusetts, nicknamed our flag “Old Glory” in 1824.
All these years later, Marshall — a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm, the first war in Iraq, and a Purple Heart recipient — is as distraught as anyone by our nation’s apparent loss of patriotism and unifying love of country. His role with the Honor Guard includes visiting schools to teach flag etiquette. He’s surprised how few classrooms even say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore.
Political polarization is dividing us. Other nations’ hatred is eroding our national pride.
“There just isn’t a sense of Americanism being taught in our schools,” said Marshall. “The further we become disconnected from our history, the more we start losing our love of country (and) the more we start looking at the faults and wrongs rather than what unites us. We become further separated. That flag is the thing that should unite us. …
“Ours is the only country that’s ever continuously strived to be better than what it is. Our forefathers wanted to create ‘a more perfect union,’ and, of course, it hasn’t always been perfect, but we’ve made advances and improvements,” he said. “It’s just a tragedy how so many choose to forget.”
Just like Duluth has all but forgotten Flag Day.
Even though there’s no ceremony here today or remembrance, led by the Elks or anyone else, there’s good reason for us as individuals to display our flags or to take a moment to consider what it symbolizes and represents.
We can at least remember that it’s Flag Day.