Flag Day: The simple holiday


Shannon Eichorst, 14, from left, Claire Franken, 14, Tatum Jones, 14, Natalie Hodgkiss, 14, Pauline Herr, 14, jump in unison for a timed photograph while visiting the Washington Monument. (Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post)

When I was a kid, teachers would march us out to the front of our school to watch the flag hoisted up and recite the pledge of allegiance. Maybe there were readings or essays assigned. But it always seemed so plain and uncomplicated. The day doesn’t carry the weight and reflection of Veterans Day, nor the showy bureaucratic civic pageantry of Memorial Day. Even the festive celebration of July 4th ends up lost as a BBQ-and-beach family holiday.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that Flag Day is not even really a holiday. Rather, it’s a day that the sitting president is “requested,” by a congressional resolution approved in 1949, to issue a proclamation. And the president abides. (Here’s President Obama’s take this year.)

Of course, in this day and age of hoaxes and counter-hoaxes, nothing is ever simple. Take, for instance, the trustworthy flag. As school children we were taught that 18th century seamstress Betsy Ross designed the flag, but author Marc Leepson recently wrote:

The Betsy Ross story is the most tenacious piece of fiction involving the flag. There simply is no credible historical evidence — letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, bills of sale — that Ross (then known as Elizabeth Claypoole) either made or had a hand in designing the American flag before it made its debut in 1777.

The Library of Congress more gently allowed that “scholars debate this legend.”

Perhaps debate is really what the Flag Day represents. President Woodrow Wilson, in his proclamation that officially marked June 14 as an annually observed event, said that such a commemoration was needed to rebut, “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.”

I’m with President Wilson on this one. Don’t know if Mrs. Ross was responsible for the flag and don’t care. Today should simply be about flag ceremonies and Boy Scout cookouts. And about 78-year-old men waking up at 5 a.m. to plant 140 flags around their house.

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