June 14 is Flag Day, commemorating the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the United States flag on that day way back in 1777 and officially declared so in 1949 by an act of Congress.
In spite of that, Flag Day is not a federal holiday (only in Pennsylvania is it celebrated as an official holiday).
But, to me, it is a time for reflection on the meaning and the history of our Grand Old Flag, as George M. Cohan expressed it in his stirring song composed in 1906. Of course our Grand Old Flag has been the subject of many stirring songs and marches including, of course, our national anthem.
One of my most memorable experiences concerning our flag — and our national anthem — occurred a year or two ago on one of our trips to our nation’s capital. We visited the then recently remodeled National Museum of American History where the remains of that tattered flag that we pledge our allegiance to are on display.
The remains are carefully preserved and protected for all to see, but not to touch.
I say remains, because in addition to the damage it suffered during the battle of Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key’s stirring words, that flag made a colonial tour where people were able to cut pieces of the flag for souvenirs. Rather than detract from the significance of that flag, to me it symbolize the reverence in which it was held then and the less formal “rules” of those days, days when you could not only see and touch, but also snip as well.
You enter the exhibit on the museum’s second floor. Depending upon the time of the year and day, you may find yourself on a long, but fast moving line. As you approach the entrance you can hear the strains of our anthem. Walking through this display brought chills to my spine as I proceeded along the semi-circle path where I saw depictions of the battle at Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key’s stirring words.
Visiting that exhibit reminded me of other visits to “shrines” associated with our flag.
Did Betsy Ross really sew that first flag in her home in Pennsylvania?
And how about Barbara Fritchie? Did she actually say ““Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, but spare my country’s flag.” A visit to her home in Frederick, Md., — just a short distance from our nation’s capital — might convince you that she did.
Fact or fiction, all of this adds to the lore of the Stars and Stripes, which we again recognize on Flag Day.
There may not be many parades, but there are ceremonies, usually organized by local service clubs such as the American Legion, Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks (BPOE) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Locally, this year only the Bonita Springs chapter has scheduled a parade which will be held on June 12 at the intersection of Coconut Grove and U.S. 41.
Neither the American Legion or either of the Veteran of Foreign War chapters here in Naples have anything scheduled.
That was not the case in 2007 when, purely by chance, my wife and I were involved in a Flag Day ceremony in Sugden Square.
It was a beautiful evening and we had ventured down to Fifth Avenue South for dinner at Yabba Island Grill. We were seated at one of the patio tables when my wife engaged in a conversation with three members of the VFW Post 7369 who were there for a Flag lowering ceremony.
After finishing our cocktails we ordered dinner. No sooner had it been served when a young woman came to our table and said she understood that I had been a naval officer — something that my wife had mentioned to the VFW Chapter Commandant. She also asked if I had served during wartime, which I had (during the Korean War).
Then she asked if I would be willing to receive the flag after the flag lowering ceremony to take place in a few minutes. As shocked as I was, I felt compelled — and honored — to accept. I confess also to being a bit self-conscious as I was wearing a polo shirt and shorts. Very fortunately, my shirt was a red, white and blue plaid and my shorts were blue. The patriotism of my outfit was a sheer coincidence.
So there I was, standing in front of the steps leading to the entrance of the Sugden Community Theater, accepting the carefully and correctly folded flag in a brief ceremony. At its conclusion, I tried to return the flag to the commandant, but he refused and gave me the certification that it had flown (even though briefly) over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
I may not be able to duplicate that experience or find any flag ceremony in Naples, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will proudly display and the salute that flag on June 14.