June 14 is Flag Day. But is it the wrong day to celebrate the nation’s colors? Possibly, yes.
Though not a federal holiday, Flag Day commemorates June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress adopted the nation’s colors.
“That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation,” the record states.
That’s it. No more explanation. No more symbolism. No recognition of flag-maker Betsy Ross, either.
The flag resolution was sandwiched like thin cheese into Congress’s heartier bread and butter business. They spent more time that day slicing problems, such as sneaking salt to patriots into British-controlled New York and urgently replacing a Navy captain of “doubtful character” with upstart John Paul Jones.
They also gave Benedict Arnold a militia command. The myopic or nearsighted congress could only focus on the obstacles facing them—missing the farsighted feat of fashioning freedom’s most visible symbol.
A more fitting day for celebrating the nation’s colors just might be June 20. After receiving an oral report complete with an eagle graphic—an 18th century “PowerPoint” presentation—the Continental Congress adopted the nation’s great seal and explained the colors on June 20, 1782. Finally!
“White signifies purity and innocence. Red hardiness and valor and Blue…signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.”
What took them so long? It’s simple. Congress couldn’t define the colors in 1777 because they didn’t know what they truly meant. Then they were stitching a revolution from civil war chaos.
But by 1782 they understood John Paul Jones’s red stripe of valor when he famously yelled from his sinking ship “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!”
They knew George Washington had told his army they weren’t fighting for themselves but for innocent “unborn millions” to come. They saw justice after Benedict Arnold’s treason. He escaped, but pivotal West Point was saved. For eight years they lived loudly for liberty, persevered and won.
While some think patriotism is passé, such as the California school administrator who sent home five students last month for wearing the nation’s colors on Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, others are less nearsighted. Farsighted folks see past such flag flaps. To them, any day is great for flag flying.
Just ask Gold Star mother Debbie Lee of Surprise, Ariz., who last week made her second visit to Iraq to encourage troops. Her son Marc Alan Lee, a Navy SEAL, died there in 2006 after single-handedly standing in the direct line of fire and shooting more than 100 rounds.
“Real courage is facing the enemy and being willing to pay the ultimate price with your life because you value others’ lives more than your own,” Lee explains.
While Marc embodied valor’s stripe like John Paul Jones, Lee’s stamina continues the red thread.
When Daniel Nichols of Rockville, Md., joined thousands first called to Iraq in 2003, he observed that bravery is “struggling forward against all odds for the sake of a few intangible values. Values such as liberty and human dignity, values without which life on earth would bear no worth at all.”
The founders had Nichols’s motive in mind for those white stripes and stars.
At a family reunion on June 5, 2010, Bill Cook of Bixby, Okla., reflected on his mother Jamie’s true blue vigilance. During World War II, this mother of seven posted a service flag on her front door in Little Rock, Ark. The four stars represented each son she prayed would return. They did.
Cook purposefully wore red, white and blue to the reunion to remember his older brothers’ service.
The best reason to raise or wear a flag on Flag Day 2010—whether June 14 or June 20—is simple: Despite some shortsightedness, our colors haven’t lost their meaning.
Jane Hampton Cook, is co-author of "Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan" and author of "Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War." She appears regularly on Fox News Channel. For more visit janecook.com.
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Jane Hampton Cook is an award-winning author and a former White House webmaster. The author of nine books her latest is "The Burning of the White House: James & Dolley Madison and the War of 1812." For more, visit her website, janecook.com.