The American Flag and Flag Day
by Ruby Bayan
Referred to as the Star-Spangled Banner, Old Glory, and Stars and Stripes, the American flag is honored in a special annual holiday in celebration of the day Congress adopted the first official flag for the United States in June 14, 1777.
Commemoration of the flag's "birthday," however, started only after about a century, when schoolteachers in Wisconsin and New York arranged for children to observe June 14 as Flag Day. Local organizations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Chicago followed suit by sponsoring yearly ceremonies where children and adults carrying small flags gathered and participated in patriotic programs.
Finally, in 1916, after years of local and state celebrations, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the official commemoration of Flag Day. But it was only in August 3, 1949, that an Act of Congress, signed by President Harry Truman, designated June 14 of each year as National Flag Day. This joint resolution of Congress required all federal government buildings to the display the flag, and the president to issue an annual proclamation calling for the observance of Flag Day.
History of the Flag
The first official flag of the Union was dictated by the Continental Congress' first Flag Act in 1777, stating, "Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
The 13 stripes and 13 stars represented the 13 colonies that declared independence in 1776. To acknowledge the admission of Vermont and Kentucky into the Union in 1795, the flag was given 15 stripes and 15 stars. When more states joined the Union, prompting an awkward flag design, Congress passed a law in 1818 restoring the 13 stripes to represent the original 13 colonies, and the addition of one star on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state.
By the start of the Civil War in 1859, the American flag had 33 stars; by 1908, it had 46. In 1912, President Taft prescribed the official legal dimensions and design of the flag, then with 48 stars, which remained unchanged until Alaska joined the Union in 1959. One year later, the flag was changed for the 26th time. With the inclusion of Hawaii, the stars counted 50, arranged in nine rows staggered horizontally and eleven rows staggered vertically. This is the official flag hoisted today.
Respect for the Flag
According to the Flag Code, the American flag should be displayed from sunrise to sunset, or even at night if properly illuminated. It should be displayed every day, most especially during state and national holidays, and in or near every public institution, polling place, and schoolhouse.
The flag should always be carried aloft and free, never touching anything beneath it like the ground, floor, water, or any merchandise. It should never be used as a covering for a ceiling, as a receptacle for carrying, receiving, or delivering anything, and should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored such that it will be easily torn, soiled, or damaged.
A flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations, but no part of the flag should be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
And most importantly, the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped, instead, as a demonstration of honor and respect.
Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" -- the pledge was authored by Francis Bellamy and first published in 1892 in Massachusetts, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to North America.
When reciting the pledge, Americans must stand at attention, with the right hand placed over the heart. Men must remove their hats and people in uniform must salute.
The National Anthem
The "Star-Spangled Banner", adopted as the U.S. National Anthem, was written by Francis Scott Key as he gazed, inspired by the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the war of 1812.
When the national anthem is played, everyone should stand and face towards the flag or the music. Men should remove their hats, and those in uniform must hold a salute from the first note to the last.
For more information on the US Flag and Flag Day:
Flag Day: http://www.umkc.edu/imc/flagday.htm
Evolution of the US Flag: http://www.usflag.org/flag.evolution.html
The United States Flag Page: http://www.usflag.org/
Flag Education and Etiquette: http://www.legion.org/flagtoc.htm
[First published at New2USA.com, 2000]