June 14, 1916: First Flag Day

 

 

And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and felt–the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

 

My Fellow Countrymen:

Many circumstances have recently conspired to turn our thoughts to a critical examination of the conditions of our national life, of the influences which have seemed to threaten to divide us in interest and sympathy, of forces within and forces without that seemed likely to draw us away from the happy traditions of united purpose and action of which we have been so proud, It has therefore seemed to me fitting that I should call your attention to the approach of the anniversary of the day upon which the flag of the United States was adopted by the Congress as the emblem of the Union, and to suggest to you that it should this year and in the years to come be given special significance as a day of renewal and reminder, a day upon which we should direct our minds with a special desire of renewal to thoughts of the ideals and principles of which we have sought to make our great Government the embodiment.

I therefore suggest and request that throughout the nation and if possible in every community the fourteenth day of June be observed as FLAG DAY with special patriotic exercises, at which means shall be taken to give significant expression to our thoughtful love of America, our comprehension of the great mission of liberty and justice to which we have devoted ourselves as a people, our pride in the history and our enthusiasm for the political program of the nation, our determination to make it greater and purer with each generation, and our resolution to demonstrate to all the world its, vital union in sentiment and purpose, accepting only those as true compatriots who feel as we do the compulsion of this supreme allegiance. Let us on that day rededicate ourselves to the nation, “one and inseparable” from which every thought that is not worthy of our fathers’ first vows in independence, liberty, and right shall be excluded and in which we shall stand with united hearts, for an America which no man can corrupt, no influence draw away from its ideals, no force divide against itself,-a nation signally distinguished among all the nations of mankind for its clear, individual conception alike of its duties and its privileges, its obligations and its rights.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this thirtieth day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixteen, and of the independence of the United States of America the one hundred and fortieth.

WOODROW WILSON

By the President:

ROBERT Lansing

Published in: on June 14, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 14, 1916: First Flag Day  
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Today is Flag Day

Today we begin cruising to show the flag on Tungting Lake and the Hunan Rivers.

I want all honors rendered smartly.

At home in America, when today reaches them it will be Flag Day. For us who wear the uniform every day is Flag Day.

It is said there will be no more wars. We must pretend to believe that. But when war comes, it is we who will take the first shock and buy time with our lives. It is we who keep the faith. We are not honored for it. We are called mercenaries on the outposts of empire. … We serve the flag. The trade we follow is the give and take of death. It is for that purpose the American people maintain us. Any one of us who believes he has a job like any other, for which he draws a money wage, is a thief of the food he eats and a trespasser in the bunk in which he lies down to sleep!

Speech of Lieutenant Collins, The Sand Pebbles

“Tomorrow we begin our summer cruising to show the flag on Tungting Lake and the Hunan rivers,” he said. “At home in America, when today reaches them, it will be Flag Day. They will gather to do honor and hear speeches. For us who wear the uniform, every day is Flag Day. We pay our honor in act and feeling and we have little need of words. But on this one day it will not hurt us to grasp briefly in words the meaning of our flag. That is what I want to talk about this morning.”

He paused. Chinese quarreled noisily on passing junks. As always, ragged coolies watched from the bank.

“Our flag is the symbol of America. I want you to grasp what America really is,” Lt. Collins said, nodding for emphasis. “It is more than marks on a map. It is more than buildings and land. America is a living structure of human lives, of all the American lives that ever were and ever will be. We in San Pablo are collectively only a tiny, momentary bit of that structure. How can we, standing here, grasp the whole of America?” He made a grasping motion. “Think now of a great cable,” he said, and made a circle with his arms. “The cable has no natural limiting length. It can be spun out forever. We can unlay it into ropes, and the ropes into strands, and the strands into yarns, and none of them have any natural ending. But now let us pull a yarn apart into single fibers–” he made plucking motions with his fingers “–and each man of us can find himself. Each fiber is a tiny, flat, yellowish thing, a foot or a yard long by nature. One American life from birth to death is like a single fiber. Each one is spun into the yarn of a family and the strand of a home town and the rope of a home state. The states are spun into the great, unending, unbreakable cable that is America.”

His voice deepened on the last words. He paused, to let them think about it. It was a new thought and it fascinated Holman. Just by living your life you wound and you wound yourself into the big cable. The cable grew and grew into the future like a living thing. It was a living thing. The thought fascinated Holman.

“No man, not even President Coolidge, can experience the whole of America directly,” Lt. Collins resumed. “We can only feel it when the strain comes on, the terrible strain of hauling our history into a stormy future. Then the cable springs taut and vibrant. It thins and groans as the water squeezes out and all the fibers press each to each in iron hardness. Even then, we know only the fibers that press against us. But there is another way to know America.”

He paused for a deep breath. The ranks were very quiet.

“We can know America through our flag which is its symbol,” he said quietly. “In our flag the barriers of time and space vanish. All America that ever was and ever will be lives every moment in our flag. Wherever in the world two or three of us stand together under our flag, all America is there. When we stand proudly and salute our flag, that is what we know wordlessly in the passing moment.”

Holman’s eyes went to the flag. It looked almost alive, streaming and rippling in the breeze off the river. He felt that he had not ever really looked at the flag before.

“Understand that our flag is not the cloth but the pattern of form and color manifested in the cloth,” Lt. Collins was saying. “It could have been any pattern once, but our fathers chose that one. History has made it sacred. The honor paid it in uncounted acts of individual reverence has made it live. Every morning in American schoolrooms children present their hearts to our flag. Every morning and evening we render it our military salutes. And so the pattern lives and it can manifest itself in any number of bits of perishable cloth, but the pattern is indestructible.”

A foul smell blew across the fantail. It was from a passing string of barges taking liquid Hankow sewage back to the fields that fed Hankow. Sailors called them honey barges. The foul breeze made no difference in the bright, rippling appearance of the flag.

“For us in San Pablo every day is Flag Day,” Lt. Collins went on. He was talking easily but earnestly. “Civilians are only morally bound to salute our flag. We are legally bound. All Americans are morally bound to die for our flag, if called upon. Only we are legally bound. Only we live our lives in day to day readiness for that sacrifice. We have sworn our oaths and cut our ties. We have given up wealth and home life, except as San Pablo is our home. It marks us. It sets us apart. We are uncomfortable reminders, in time of peace. Those of you who served in the last war will know what I mean.”

Heads nodded along the ranks. Holman nodded too.

“It is said there will be no more war. We must pretend to believe that. But when war comes, it is we who will take the first shock and buy time with our lives. It is we who keep the faith. We are not honored for it. We are called mercenaries on the outposts of empire. But I want to speak for you an epitaph written for an army of mercenaries such as we in San Pablo.”

He cleared his throat and spoke solemnly:

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

He paused again. There was some foot shuffling in the ranks. They did not want to take this stuff too personally, Holman knew. Lt. Collins hardened his expression. His eyes bored at them. He seemed to loom above them on the grating. His voice rang harshly.

“We serve the flag. The trade we all follow is the give and take of death. It is for that purpose that the American people maintain us. Any one of us who believes he has a job like any other, for which he draws a money wage, is a thief of the food he eats and a trespasser in the bunk in which he lies down to sleep!”

It shocked them. Holman felt his cheeks burn. That was not the idea he had of himself. All along the ranks they were looking down at their feet.

Lt. Collins talked on, his voice quiet again. He talked about the flag code. There was a lot of it. The honey barges moved by and the air was clean once more. The flag was a Person, Lt. Collins said. The union of stars was the flag’s honor point, its sword arm. You always displayed the flag so that it faced the beholders. There was only one time when the flag turned its back on the beholders. Lt. Collins’ voice became hushed.

“That is at a military funeral, when one of us who has lived and died honorably goes to join the staff of the Great Commander,” he said. “Then our flag lies face down on the coffin and clasps the dead man in its arms. I am not ashamed to believe that in that moment the spirit of the dead man passes directly into our flag. That is our special reward, who keep the military faith.”

He said it quietly, looking at them quietly, and went right on.

“So may we all live and die honorably, each in his own time,” he said. “And now in closing, I want to read you what Calvin Coolidge, our Commander in Chief, has to say about our flag.”

He pulled a white card from his pocket and read: “Alone of all flags, it represents the sovereignty of the people, which endures when all else passes away. Speaking with their voice, it has the sanctity of revelation. He who lives under it and is loyal to it is loyal to truth and justice everywhere. He who lives under it and is disloyal to it is a traitor to the human race everywhere. What could be saved, if the Flag of the American Nation were to perish?”

Published in: on June 14, 2021 at 5:28 am  Comments Off on Today is Flag Day  
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Ragged Old Flag

Something for the weekend.  Ragged Old Flag (1974) sung by the incomparable Johnny Cash, a good song for two days before Flag Day.  Bonus :

Here Comes the Freedom Train (1976) sung by the great Merle Haggard.

Published in: on June 12, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Ragged Old Flag  
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Today is Flag Day

Today we begin cruising to show the flag on Tungting Lake and the Hunan Rivers.

I want all honors rendered smartly.

At home in America, when today reaches them it will be Flag Day. For us who wear the uniform every day is Flag Day.

It is said there will be no more war. We must pretend to believe that. But when war comes, it is we who will take the first shock and buy time with our lives. It is we who keep the faith. We are not honored for it. We are called mercenaries on the outposts of empire. … We serve the flag. The trade we follow is the give and take of death. It is for that purpose the American people maintain us. Any one of us who believes he has a job like any other, for which he draws a money wage, is a thief of the food he eats and a trespasser in the bunk in which he lies down to sleep!

Speech of Lieutenant Collins, The Sand Pebbles

 

Published in: on June 14, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Today is Flag Day  
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Philip Nolan and Flag Day

Today is Flag Day.  Edward Everett Hale, in his short story A Man Without A Country, reminds us that patriotism is a very powerful form of love.  Hale, a great nephew of Nathan Hale who died on a British scaffold and uttered the deathless  “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”, wrote the story in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 to help inspire patriotism.

The story is a simple one.  Philip Nolan was a young artillery lieutenant in the United States Army.  He became involved in the  vague scheme of Aaron Burr to detach some territory from the  United States and form an independent nation.  All the big fish escape conviction, but Lieutenant Nolan does not.  At his courtmartial the following takes place:

One and another of the colonels and majors were tried, and, to fill out the list, little Nolan, against whom, Heaven knows, there was evidence enough,–that he was sick of the service, had been willing to be false to it, and would have obeyed any order to march any-whither with any one who would follow him had the order been signed, “By command of His Exc.A. Burr.” The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped,–rightly for all I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,–

“Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” (more…)

Published in: on June 14, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Philip Nolan and Flag Day  
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A Priest Born on Flag Day

One of the most highly decorated chaplains of World War II, Father Elmer W. Heindl used to joke that his decorations were simply due to him being in the wrong place at the right time.  Born on June 14, 1910 in Rochester, New York, the oldest of six children, Heindl decided at an early age that he was meant to be a priest and was ordained on June 6, 1936.  He said that being born on Flag Day indicated to him that during his life he would do something to honor the Stars and Stripes.

In March of 1942 he joined the Army as a chaplain.  Assigned to the 2nd Battalion of th 148th infantry attached to the 37th Division, he served on Guadalcanal, New Georgia and in the Philippines.  He quickly gained a reputation for utter fearlessness under fire, giving the last Rites, tending the wounded and rescuing wounded under fire.    In regard to the Last Rites, Father Heindl noted that he did not have time to check dog tags to see if a dying soldier was a Catholic.  “Every situation was an instant decision.  You didn’t have time to check his dog tag to see whether he was Catholic or not. I’d say, in Latin, ‘If you’re able and willing to receive this sacrament, I give it to you.’ And then leave it up to the Lord.”

He earned a Bronze Star on New Georgia when on July  19 and July 23 he conducted burial services, although in constant danger from Japanese sniper fire.  The citation noted that his cheerful demeanor and courage inspired the troops who encountered him.

During the liberation of the Philippines, Captain Heindl participated in the bitter fighting in Manila.  He earned a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor in the United States Army, during the fighting at Bilibid prison to liberate American and Filipino POWs who had been through horrors at the hands of their Japanese captors that I truly hope the readers of this post would find literally unimaginable.  Here is the Distinguished Service Cross citation: (more…)

Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on A Priest Born on Flag Day  
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June 14, 1917: President Wilson Speech

 

In 1917 Flag Day as an annual observance was one year old President Wilson’s speech, unsurprisingly, focused on the War that America was now a part of, and a rejection of any German peace feelers short of surrender:

 

My Fellow Citizens: We meet to celebrate Flag Day because this flag which we honour and under which we serve is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or in war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us. —speaks to us of the past, * of the men and women who went before us and of the records they wrote upon it. We celebrate the day of its birth; and from its birth until now it has witnessed a great history, has floated on high the symbol of great, events, of a great plan of life worked out by a great people. We are about to carry it into battle, to lift it where it will draw the fire of our enemies. We are about to bid thousands, hundreds of thousands, it may be millions, of our men. the young, the strong, the capable men of the nation, to go forth and die beneath it on fields of blood far away, —for what? For some unaccustomed thing? For something for which it has never sought the fire before? American armies were never before sent across the seas. Why arc they sent now? For some new purpose, for which this great flag has never been carried before, or for some old. familiar, heroic purpose for which it has seen men, its own men, die on every battlefield upon which Americans have borne arms since the Revolution?

These are questions which must be answered. We are Americans. We in our turn serve America, and can serve her with no private purpose. We must use her flag as she has always used it. Wo are accountable at the bar of history and must plead in utter frankness what purpose it is we seek to serve. (more…)

Published in: on June 20, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 14, 1917: President Wilson Speech  
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Philip Nolan and Flag Day

Today is Flag Day.  Edward Everett Hale, in his short story A Man Without A Country, reminds us that patriotism is a very powerful form of love.  Hale, a great nephew of Nathan Hale who died on a British scaffold and uttered the deathless  “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”, wrote the story in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 to help inspire patriotism.

The story is a simple one.  Philip Nolan was a young artillery lieutenant in the United States Army.  He became involved in the  vague scheme of Aaron Burr to detach some territory from the  United States and form an independent nation.  All the big fish escape conviction, but Lieutenant Nolan does not.  At his court-martial the following takes place:

One and another of the colonels and majors were tried, and, to fill out the list, little Nolan, against whom, Heaven knows, there was evidence enough,–that he was sick of the service, had been willing to be false to it, and would have obeyed any order to march any-whither with any one who would follow him had the order been signed, “By command of His Exc.A. Burr.” The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped,–rightly for all I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,–

“Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” (more…)

Published in: on June 14, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Philip Nolan and Flag Day  
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Flag Day, Red Skelton, Sir Walter Scott, Johnny Cash and Mom

I can think of few things more appropriate for Flag Day than Red Skelton’s immortal explanation of the Pledge of Allegiance.  When my sainted mother became a naturalized American citizen, she was given a little American flag.  I have a treasured photo of my Mom and Dad just after the naturalization ceremony, both happy, and my Mom clutching the flag of a land that she loved long before she became a citizen.  I still have the flag, one of my most precious mementoes of my Mom.

A flag of course is only physically a piece of fabric, sometimes described disparagingly by cynics as a rag on a stick.   Sir Walter Scott described such people well long ago: (more…)

Published in: on June 14, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Flag Day, Red Skelton, Sir Walter Scott, Johnny Cash and Mom  
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Flag Day and the Army

On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed this resolution:

 “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The Flag was designed by member of Congress Francis Hopkinson who requested a quarter cask of wine for his services.  Payment was denied him on the sound ground that he was already being paid as a member of Congress.  Two years previously on June 14, 1775, Congress voted to adopt the New England militia army besieging Boston and so the Continental Army was formed.

I have always thought it appropriate that the Flag and the Army share the same birthday.  The Flag is the proud symbol of the nation but without military strength to back it up, it would quickly become a mere colorful piece of fabric.  John Wayne in a brief speech at the end of the movie Fort Apache (1948), part of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, captured the spirit of the Army:

As did this passage the following year in the second of the cavalry trilogy, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon:

 

So here they are: the dog-faced soldiers, the regulars, the fifty-cents-a-day professionals… riding the outposts of a nation. From Fort Reno to Fort Apache – from Sheridan to Startle – they were all the same: men in dirty-shirt blue and only a cold page in the history books to mark their passing. But wherever they rode – and whatever they fought for – that place became the United States.

The song That Ragged Old Flag understands the necessity of men willing to fight for the nation, for the Flag if the country is to endure: (more…)

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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