June 14 was Flag Day. It is one of our less
celebrated annual events. Independence Day on July 4 is celebrated with
fireworks, parades and as a national holiday, but Flag Day is generally
The day has always struggled for recognition.
Even back in 1921, just three years after World War
I, there was a lack of enthusiasm for Flag Day.
The Wheeling Intelligencer
printed these words from a writer:
Flag Day in West Virginia as well as in other parts of this great
It is a pity
that there will not be a wider observance of the date. The Elks lodges
at some points in West Virginia are planning to observe the day, but
there will be many points where Flag Day of 1921 will pass like Flag
Days of the past, with only a few flags displayed.
symbolizes the greatest honor and it is to be regretted that the custom
of uncovering the head when it passes in parade is not more generally
observed in this state. Only a small proportion of the men watching
parades in Charleston, Clarksburg and Fairmont in the last year have
lifted their hats when the flag passed by.
This in the
vast majority of cases was not intentional disrespect, but evidence of
the forgetfulness that comes to many people in days of peace.
to the flag is a salute to all the American citizen holds dear and it is
a salute to those millions who have died in wars to make this nation
free, united and strong. It is a salute to ourselves as citizens, the
unforced tribute of free men to the beautiful symbol of our country.
flag in parade should fail to receive the civilian’s salute and those
who forget should be reminded by those standing nearby. If you do
nothing more to observe Flag Day, determine to salute the flag the next
time it passes you in parade.”
Even Flag Day’s beginnings were low key. It
probably started in 1885, when B.J. Cigrand, a schoolteacher in
Wisconsin, planned a “Flag Birthday” observance for his students. He
chose June 14 because on that day in 1777 the Continental Congress
officially adopted a banner with 13 stars in a blue field and 13
alternating red and white stripes. He continued to promote June 14 as
Flag Birthday or now Flag Day.
Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn founded the American
Flag Day Association and moved the celebrations beyond Wisconsin. The
first time Chicago participated, 300,000 people turned out. The movement
slowly caught on and in 1889, George Balch, a New York kindergarten
teacher, planned a celebration at his school. New York State Board of
Education adopted June 14 as Flag Day, and in 1894 the governor of New
York ordered all public buildings to display the flag on that day.
President Woodrow Wilson established the first
official national Flag Day in 1916. It was not a national observance
until Aug. 3, 1949, when President Harry Truman signed an Act of
Congress that designated June 14 as National Flag Day.
In a 1914 Flag Day ceremony, Secretary of the
Interior Franklin K. Lane included this remark, “This morning, the flag
whispered to me ‘I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before
your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself’.”
(Information from a clipping (unknown date and
source) found in the files of Carl Morris, written by Gerald Swick and
the website www.usflag.org.)
Standards of Respect
The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the
traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, also contains
specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. They are:
--The flag should never be dipped to any person or
thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
--The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for
covering a speaker’s desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in
general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these
purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
--The flag should never be used for any advertising
purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on
such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything
intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should
not be attached to the staff or halyard
--The flag should not be used as part of a costume
or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform
of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic
--The flag should never have placed on it, or
attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or
drawing of any kind.
--The flag should never be used as a receptacle for
receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
When the flag is lowered, no part of it should
touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting
hands and arms. To store the flag, it should be folded neatly and
The flag should be cleaned and mended when
When a flag is so worn, it is no longer fit to
serve as a symbol of our country, it should be retired by burning in a
More information is available at