Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 14, 2014

What so proudly we hail is a symbol for all of us to respect and honor

— — World War II veterans are steadily slipping away nearly three quarters of a century after they saved the world in part so that a Baby Boomer like me can teach English — not German or Japanese — as the primary language of this country. Some might not understand but each time I look at my classroom flag, I think about that. I am proud to say that the first Flag Day was organized by a school teacher, Bernard J. Cigrand, in his Wisconsin school room. Educators love their country, and know that without the sacrifice of our brave military personnel, who continue to risk all when called upon, it is not likely this place we call home would still be the “United States of America” because few conquered countries retain their original titles.

Not a day goes by in our classrooms that we do not stand and salute the flag as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. We are glad to perform the service, it is just a little way that we can do our part to keep this republic on course and in our hearts. While we all appreciate and applaud our soldiers and their families, this day is not only Flag Day but also a very special one for the Army.

June 14, 1777 was the vote to adopt an American flag. It was also the date that the Congress adopted the “American continental army” by committee vote and the rest is certainly history for all citizens.

As you might expect, the flag has seldom waved over peace and tranquility. There was a major debate as far back as May 1795 about how many items might be found upon the Stars and Stripes. A pair of Massachusetts legislators, George Thatcher and Benjamin Goodhue, were the most vocal opponents to a flag that would hold 15 stars. Thatcher said that a new flag was a waste of money and believed that a new design would cost him personally $500 and every Navy vessel about $60. Goodhue added that eventually the USA might have as many as 20 states and changing the flag so often would be a never-ending task for the Congress and would make the field of blue much too crowded.

George Washington signed the measure into law soon after and Congress had few major issues until April 1818 when the banner was officially set on a course for permanent design.

It was decreed that the 13 stripes, alternating red and white in honor of the original colonies, would be displayed in a horizontal fashion. Further, the lawmakers said that a new star would be added for each new state and that the addition would take place on the July following that state’s admission to the Union.

All West Virginians know that the 35th star on the flag belongs to the Mountain State, admitted on June 20, 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. West Virginia, carved from Virginia, remains the only U.S. state to be taken out of another state without the consent of the existing Commonwealth. Virginia, one of the original 13 colonies to become states, is the 10th star on the field of blue.

Until our present flag, which has been standard issue for 54 years, the previous record holder for longevity was the 48-star flag which flew proudly from 1912 to 1959. The last two states to join under that edition were New Mexico and Arizona. Their inclusion was made official by President Woodrow Wilson, a Staunton native who is presently the last Virginian to hold the office.

Alaska in 1959 and Hawaii in 1960 changed the flag in successive years and no state has been added since. Both states changed the country in a unique way. Neither was part of the contiguous boundary from whence came the first 48 states. Alaska was and remains the largest state, more than twice the size of Texas. It is also the first state to have been formed from territory originally owned by Russia.

Hawaii had been working toward statehood for nearly half a century before its formal admission. It is located more than 2,000 nautical miles from San Francisco, making it the most distant of all American states. It is also famed as the state holding Pearl Harbor within its boundaries, where the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, pushed the U. S. into World War II.

Finally, it was Woodrow Wilson in 1917 who officially designated June 14 as Flag Day, with special prompting from a civic club, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, who promoted the patriotic display each year.

On this day, a special thanks to Tazewell County Public Library reference librarian Chris Wilkes, who worked diligently to secure a host of interesting facts about our grand old flag. He said he was proud to do it and Deb Linkous joined in the project

God Bless America and our Star Spangled Banner on this and every day of the year.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

 

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