The American flag is a living symbol of our patriotic history

“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.”

These wonderful patriotic words were written and put to music by George M. Cohan in 1906 for his stage play, “George Washington, Jr.” Americans loved the song and it became the first piece of sheet music to sell over one million copies. Later, in 1942, it was included in a movie about George M. Cohan, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The United States was fighting in World War II at the time and the stirring music and words became even more popular.

This year, it is especially significant that we think about the flag and what it means. Flag Day is celebrated on June 14, thanks to an act of Congress signed by President Harry Truman. It is followed a few weeks later by the Fourth of July. The two patriotic holidays always bring out displays of flags. No matter what one’s political beliefs, the sight of our Grand Old Flag stirs feelings of pride in our country and its history.

The stories behind the days we celebrate as Flag Day and the Fourth of July are interesting. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution specifying that the flag carry 13 stripes and 13 stars. They represented the 13 colonies. The colors were selected to represent valor (red), purity and innocence (white) and vigilance, perseverance and justice (blue). The members of the Continental Congress were optimistic that the flag would represent the ideals for which they were fighting.

In 1893, Philadelphia became the first city to celebrate Flag Day, and in the following year, New York was the first state to celebrate it. The idea of honoring the flag with a special day caught on across the country until finally President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making June 14 Flag Day.

It wasn’t until 1949 that President Harry Truman signed into law an act of Congress that National Flag Day be observed every June 14. The United States Flag Code was also adopted by Congress. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. The flag code includes definite rules for displaying it, but most of us have long forgotten them or choose to ignore them.

We all know — or at least most of us do — why we celebrate the Fourth of July. The events of 2010, however, make me wonder whether most people have ever read the Declaration of Independence.

July 4 is the day we celebrate our official separation from Britain. Written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence is the most important document in our history. It not only declares our independence, but it also contains a sweeping statement of human rights.

Americans have every right to feel proud of our country and its flag. But patriotism is much more than hanging the flag out and shooting off fireworks.

We might like to believe that the current political schism between the politics of the right and left is something new. Actually it isn’t. When our forefathers came together to form a new country, with its own constitution, men fought with words and sometimes with fists. The largest issue, and it does sound familiar, was whether the United States would have a weak central government and strong state governments, or a strong central government and weak state governments.

Later, the issue of slavery split the country much more deeply than our current division. That issue wasn’t settled until a terrible civil war was fought.

The flag is a symbol — a living one. Patriotic Americans respect it. But patriotism is not just waving a flag. It is sharing in the political process. That means voting and being aware. It means truly believing that government can be better.

We are a nation of patriots, and we are a democracy. You have a right to express your opinion. I have a right to express mine. They are probably not the same. But we all have the best interests of our country at heart.

The United States has come through trying times before and we will this time, but only if each side respects the other’s views. The time for name calling and incendiary rhetoric is over. Let us find compromises and work together to achieve balance. That is what a democratic republic is all about.

“You’re a grand old flag

You’re a high flying flag.

You’re the emblem of

The land I love.”

Henrietta Hay can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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