The stars and stripes, the flag of the United States of America, stands for the unity of America, a common cause and the hope for a better tomorrow. Past, present and future, the flag represents the freedom that we Americans cherish and the price that we have paid for it. Like our country, the flag has some interesting history and facts of its own.
The very first flag was the result of the Flag Resolution that was passed on July 14, 1777. It states, "Resolved, That the flag of the 13 United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." George Washington was the only president to serve under this flag which Congressman Francis Hopkinson designed. Betsy Ross, a seamstress friend of George Washington was commissioned to sew the first flag. This first Star Spangled Banner, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem of the same name, is one of the most treasured artifacts of our history and is in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
The Congressional Act of April 4, 1818, signed by President Monroe, required the number of stars to equal the number of states in the union and fixed the number of stripes at 13. Following the admission of each new state, a star for each state was added each year on July 4. Our 50-star flag as we know it today, was ordered by President Eisenhower and adopted in July of 1960.
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The stars are in nine rows staggered horizontally and in eleven rows staggered vertically. These stripes stand for the 13 original states. The colors of red, white and blue also have significance. White signifies purity and innocence, red represents hardiness and valor, while blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice.
On June 22, 1942, Congress passed a joint resolution that has come to be known as the US Flag Code. Quite simply, it states how citizens should behave around the flag, after all it is a symbol of our freedom and pride and deserves to be revered. Most importantly, it is to be saluted during parades, every time our National Anthem is sung and every time it is hoisted up.
The flag should be displayed every day of the year except during inclement weather. However, there are days that it should especially be displayed. These include New Year's Day, Inauguration Day, Martin Luther King's Birthday, Presidents' Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Flag Day, Father's Day, July 4, Labor Day, Constitution Day, Columbus Day, Navy Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other day proclaimed by the president of the United States.
There are also guidelines on how to display the flag. Always, it should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. Ideally, it should be displayed from sunrise to sunset. When hung vertically, the Union (blue section) should be on the left and also the same if hung horizontally. The flag should always be on a staff on a float and not draped over anything.
When hung in an auditorium, the position of the flag should always be behind the speaker and to the speaker's right as viewed from the audience. When the flag is to be flown at half-staff, it should first be hoisted to the top of the pole and then lowered back down.
As there are many do's for the flag, there are also some dont's that must be adhered to in order to show respect. Here are a few:
- The flag should never be dipped to anyone, not even the President of the United States.
- It should never be flown with the union down because that is a sign of distress.
- It must never be allowed to touch anything beneath it including the ground, floor or merchandise.
- It should never be carried flat, but rather always aloft and free.
- It must never be fastened to anything nor stored in any fashion that would damage it in any way. This is probably the most lenient of the rules since we do see many flags attached to walls, buildings, etc.
- Nothing should be placed on it, nor should it ever be used as a covering for a ceiling.
- The flag must never be used for advertising nor printed on linens, napkins, etc. This too is a lenient rule since we see many articles of clothing sporting the flag.
The proper disposal of flags is what has always flabbergasted me. All worn and old flags are to be disposed of in a dignified and ceremonious fashion, preferably by burning. Each year the American Legion holds a ceremony to retire old flags. To me, burning would show a sign of disrespect as opposed to just disposing of the flag, but the contrary is true.
Flag Day is celebrated every June 14 in the United States. It honors the day that Congress passed the resolution for a national flag. The proclamation for Flag Day came on May 30, 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson and President Harry Truman signed it into law in 1949.
Our country has its problems and there is always some conflict, but the flag of the United States stands for unity, sacrifice and all the good that can be. Whatever issues we disagree with in this country, there should always be an underlying sense of pride and respect for what this country is to each one of us and, for that reason, our flag should always be a symbol of that pride and respect.