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A little history behind Flag Day

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Jnn13, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stuck somewhere between Memorial Day and Independence Day, Flag Day is often overlooked and isn’t celebrated as much as other holidays associated with our nation’s beginnings.

A small-town Wisconsin teacher from Wisconsin , originated the idea for an annual flag day. In 1885, Bernard Cigran led first his school and then his school in the first formal observance of the holiday. Cigran continued to promote the concept of an annual celebration of the flag and advocated respect for the flag throughout his life.

Flag Day was formally established by President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916, but it was left out of the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act so it’s not recognized as a federal holiday.  President Harry Truman signed legislation in 1949 proclaiming it as a national holiday, but it never made the legal, federal list. 

Last week, President Joe Biden declared June 13, 2021 the start of National Flag Week and directed all government officials to display the flag on all federal buildings this week. 

So what is the meaning of Flag Day?

It is set aside to commemorate the day 244 years ago, when Congress recognized Betsy Ross’ creation of the Stars & Stripes as our national flag. The story says that Ross lobbied Gen. George Washington to redo the design, giving us the historic mock-up we’ve come to know and love. It is a common belief that Ross, who assisted the Revolutionary War effort by repairing uniforms and sewing tents, made and helped design the first American flag. Betsy Ross is considered an American hero for this, but there is actually very little proof that this actually happened. 

Of course, the flag has changed looks throughout those years. There have been 27 variations as America has grown through the colonies to the 50 states symbolized by the white stars.

Some lesser known facts about the flag include the meaning behind the colors. Red represents valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.

In 1958, 17-year-old high school student, Robert G. Heft, of Ohio, submitted the current design in a school contest. When it seemed certain that Alaska would be admitted to the Union, designers began discussing redoing the American flag. Meanwhile, Heft borrowed his mother’s sewing machine, disassembled his family’s 48-star flag and stitched on 50 stars in a pleasing pattern. He gave his design to his history teacher for a contest his school was holding, but he only received a B-. His teacher was not pleased that Heft’s design had 50 stars, even after he explained that he expected Hawaii to achieve statehood very soon. His teacher also said his design was unoriginal, but offered to change his grade to an A if the design was somehow accepted nationally. So Robert began writing to lawmakers such as his congressman and the rest is history. Heft’s design was chosen from more than 1,500 submissions by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Most people know about the flag that made the trip to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, but United States flags have actually made the journey many times since. Additional Apollo missions, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 also featured astronauts placing flags on the moon.

 

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