Nestled halfway between Memorial Day — the day we honor those who gave their lives for our country — and the Fourth of July, a jubilant celebration of our nation’s birth, is a little nondescript day called Flag Day.
Flag Day doesn’t get a lot of attention except from the most devoted flag wavers. You still have to go to work and there are no parades or fireworks.
I’ve been keenly aware of Flag Day all of my life, partly because I come from a long line of flag wavers. But mostly, Flag Day has always been significant because it was also my father’s birthday. He lived to mark 91 birthdays before passing away in 2013.
I always believed it was very appropriate that extra attention to patriotism occurred on my father’s birthday. After all, my father was Every Man from the Greatest Generation. He survived the Great Depression, he served bravely and suffered serious injury during World War II, he worked relentlessly day in and day out in the grueling 24/7 life of a dairy farmer to make a life for his family.
Despite being a quiet holiday, Flag Day has a long history, tracing back to June 14, 1777. That’s the day the Continental Congress of the fledgling United States of America declared that its flag would have 13 stripes, alternating red and white, and 13 stars in a blue field, “representing the new constellation.”
Over the next century, some localities marked June 14 but there was no formal declaration. School children across the country began observing Flag Day in 1861, as an educational project. In 1916, June 14 was proclaimed National Flag Day by President Woodrow Wilson. Then, finally, the day became official in 1949, after Congressional approval and President Truman’s signature.
Some faithful flag-wavers do recognize June 14 each year. My neighbor on the corner places flags all along his lawn. Some area businesses and organizations make sure that flags are placed along city streets and boulevards. The long rows of small flags, the red white and blue contrasting nicely with the bright spring green grass, are a gratifying sight.
Over the decades, pure and simple flag-waving has gone in and out of style. It was very important in the decade following World War II, as a symbol of the nation’s pride and patriotism after such massive sacrifice.
In the first year or two after Sept. 11, 2001, the flag was often flown as a symbol of unity and resolve. “We will never forget,” its presence assured us.
In recent years, flag-waving has been shadowed by national issues. For some, the sight of a professional football player taking a knee during the Star Spangled Banner is an insult to the flag and what it stands for. For others, the gesture seeks to bring attention to those who have been unfairly treated and judged by society.
Patriotism itself is marred by political divides. Some argue that you can’t be a patriot while questioning decisions and policies made by those in power.
Most of us feel a sense of uncertainty when it comes to where our country is headed. Election Day 2020 is a year and a half away, yet it is almost impossible to escape the name-calling and mudslinging already resonating on the campaign trail.
Unpredictability and uneasiness follows us each day, as we head to work, as we listen to the latest breaking news or hear the day’s stock market report.
We can’t predict the future, the next Sept. 11, or the lifespan of our parents or ourselves. But we can celebrate Flag Day.
Fly your flag, raise a toast to my father and each Every Man and Every Woman like him.
Cheers to Flag Day, June 14, 2019.
Peggy Bakken is a former executive editor and a columnist for APG-East Central Minnesota. Reactions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.