On June 14, we will celebrate Flag Day, a day set aside to celebrate and honor “The Stars and Stripes” or “Old Glory” as some call our American symbol of freedom.
How many of us remember why June 14th was chosen for this celebration? It was because on that date in 1777, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, adopted the resolution establishing The Stars and Stripes as the official flag of our brave new country. This is the resolution: “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 website www.americanhistory.about.com , in an article by about.com guide Martin Kelly, points out that the initial resolution said nothing about the arrangement of the stars or how many points each star should have. This article also claims that the legendary visit of President George Washington to Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross and her subsequent “design” of the American Flag sketch may be more myth than fact.
The Betsy Ross flag was supposedly based on a sketch by Washington himself. Kelly writes that “…there is no record of this incident in any official or anecdotal documents of the time. In fact, the story was not told until 94 years after the event took place by one of Betsy Ross’ grandsons, William J. Canby. More interesting than this legend, however, is the origin of the original flag having a circle of stars. An artist named Charles Weisgerber actually designed the flag in this manner for the painting ‘Birth of Our Nation’s Flag.’ This painting was eventually copied into American History texts and became ‘fact.’
“So what is the true origin of the flag,” Kelly asks. “It is believed that Francis Hopkinson, a Congressman from New Jersey and patriot, was the true designer of the flag. In fact, the journals of the Continental Congress show that he designed the flag.”
Does that mean Ross didn’t actually make the flag? No, probably not… Many sources believe Betsy Ross was an accomplished seamstress and was, in fact, the maker of that first flag. Perhaps Washington’s visit was to ask Ross to actually make the flag. Maybe he even sketched what Hopkinson conceived. That could well explain the difference in legend and records.
Later, additional Congressional acts amended the flag, as follows:
Jan. 13, 1794 — After May 1795, it was decreed that there would be 15 stripes and 15 stars, as there were now 15 states in the union.
April 4, 1818 – President James Monroe signed an Act establishing 13 stripes to honor the original 13 colonies/states and one star for each state. This act stipulated that new states would see their stars added on July 4th after their admission to the Union.
It wasn’t until 1949 that President Harry S. Truman named June 14th Flag Day in commemoration of the 1777 event.
Credit for the design of the current flag goes to Robert G. Heft who created the design for a school project. In 1958, young Robert, a student in Lancaster, Ohio, was interested in politics and talk was that Alaska and Hawaii would be added as the 49th and 50th states. So Robert knew that a flag with 50 stars would be needed. United Press International writer Jim Sielicki interviewed Heft for an article that was published in The Exchange magazine in its July-August 1988 issue and it was republished on www.usflag.org this month.
“Unfamiliar with a needle and thread and unable to get help from his mother who feared her son’s projects would be desecrating the flag, Heft spent 12 1/2 hours one weekend arranging and sewing a new combination of stars,” Sielicki wrote.
Heft’s teacher, Stanley Pratt, said the design lacked originality and only awarded the project a B-minus, Heft told Sielicki. Pratt, however, said he would give Heft a high grade if he could get Congress to accept the design. Heft took that as a challenge and sent his flag to his congressman, U.S. Rep. Walter Moeller who eventually got Heft’s design accepted. It is interesting to note that Heft’s interest in politics continued into his adult life and he has served as Mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, a city of about 9,300 in northwest Ohio.
Of course, the Stars and Stripes was not the first flag flown over the freely established United States of America – but was based upon another flag that was used by colonial patriots. According to www.foundingfathers.info , the colonists used several different flags before what was called the Grand Union Flag – which was the first flag to have any resemblance to the Stars and Stripes. Its design used the 13 stripes and blue field still used today but also the red cross of St. George of England and the white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland. It was the unofficial national flag on July 4, 1776 – Independence Day.
Just eight days before Flag Day, we marked the 68th anniversary of “D-Day” – the legendary day in which allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy, France, and began the phase of World War II that brought an end to Hitler’s Nazi regime.
American, British and Canadian soldiers disembarked from some 5,000 ships and parachuted out of 800 airplanes. Landing at Omaha beach was particularly treacherous and due to a navigational error, many warriors drowned. Despite this sad loss of life, more than 100,000 Allied troops landed on the shores that day. France was liberated from German control and the Allies gained access to German territories that enabled the U.S. to lead the way and bring down the Nazi empire. Hitler took his own life within a year of the D-Day invasion.
In the years since WWII, there have been many other battles fought. Our country’s brave men and women in the armed forces are still serving to protect the freedom of people around the world today.
Flag Day, June 14th, is one of the many occasions where flying your own American flag would be respectful – and a way to show your appreciation to those who serve. Remember to fly our colors high on those days! Thanks for reviewing some history with us – and may God continue to bless each one of us and this great country in which we live!
Kelly, Martin. “American Flag History Myths and Facts About the History of the American Flag,” American History about.com 8 June 8, 2012. Web. www.americanhistory.about.com
Whitten, Chris. The American Flag. Founding Fathers. www.gadsdenandculpeper.com; www.dtom.com . n.d. Web. 8 June 2012. www.foundingfathers.info/American-flag/
Sielicki, Jim. “Robert G Heft Designer of America’s Current National Flag.” U.S. Flag Organization July 1988. 8 June 2012. Web. www.usflag.org/flagdesigner.html
Photo courtesy www.flagpictures.org . This website offers free downloads of photos of flags from different countries and states.