Flag day:
Short history of long legacy

Senior Master Sgt. Frederick Smith435th Air Base Wing Historian

***image2***On June 14, 1777, the second Continental Congress passed a resolution adopting the flag of the United States of America. 

“That the flag of the United States shall be of thirteen stripes of alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white in a blue field, representing the new constellation.” 

Though a very important event in American history, it took about a hundred years before Americans began to take an interest in commemorating it with a Flag Day.

Today, it is difficult to be certain just how the celebration of Flag Day began, but there appears to be five credible claims to the origins of the official observance. In 1861, Hartford, Connecticut schools (at the suggestion of George Morris), held a Flag Day program in support of the Americanization of immigrant children. In 1889, a New York City school principal, Professor George Bolch, held patriotic ceremonies to observe the anniversary of the Flag resolution; ceremonies later adopted in all New York state schools. In 1893, the Society of Colonial Dames, headed by Elizabeth Gillespie — a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin — led an attempt to get the Philadelphia City Legislature to adopt a Flag Day commemoration resolution. While Mr. Morris, Dr. Bolch, and Ms. Gillespie may have played roles in establishing Flag Day, the final two contributors, Bernard J. CiGrand and William T. Kerr, undoubtedly had the most influence in establishing the national commemoration.

Bernard J. CiGrand was born in 1866, in Waubeka, Wis., of immigrant parents. As a young child he sold iron and rags to buy books, and later paid his own way through dental school by teaching. But it was his patriotism and his love of the flag that truly defined his life.
While in dental school in Chicago, he organized school Flag Day events that were attended by some 300,000 students; an endeavor for which he received considerable encouragement from U.S. presidents and other government leaders. Over the years, Mr. CiGrand wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles advocating recognition of June 14th. His work is said to have had considerable impact in fostering numerous local Flag Day ceremonies across the country. Ceremonies that had become so prevalent by 1916, that President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation to “… suggest and request that throughout the nation, and if possible, in every community, the 14th of June be observed as Flag Day, this year and in the years to come.” Despite Mr. CiGrand’s extensive Flag Day efforts, Mr. Kerr is generally considered to be the true father of Flag Day.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1868, Mr. Kerr’s patriotism developed from Civil War stories told to him by his father. In 1882, at age 14, Mr. Kerr gave his first speech on the flag to a patriotic convention in Chicago. After returning to Pittsburgh, he began what would become his life’s work — the establishment of a national Flag Day.

Through speeches, writings, meetings, and events, he founded the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania in 1888, and helped establish the National American Flag Day Association some 10 years later. In 1899, he became the National Association’s president—a position he would hold for over fifty years.  In his work to establish Flag Day, he made speeches, led meetings and made countless trips to Washington D.C. to meet with government leaders. Over the years many Flag Day resolutions had been written, but none had successfully made it through Congress, at least not until 1949.

In 1949, Mr. Kerr was in his 80’s and in failing health but, he couldn’t have been happier when he received a personal phone call from President Harry S. Truman inviting him to come to the White House to witness the signing of Public Law 203 of the 81st Congress — the Flag Day resolution. 

***image3***“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the 14th day of June of each year is hereby designated as “Flag Day” and the President of the United States is authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation calling upon the officials of the government to display the flag of the United States on all government buildings on such day, and urging the people to observe the day as the anniversary of the adoption on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States of America,”  signed August 3, 1949. 

So, while we pay honor and respect this year to our 13 stripes and white stars in a field of blue, we should also take a moment to offer up a little thanks to those patriots who’s dedication ensured that June 14, would be commemorated as our National Flag Day, “ … in every community, … this year and in the years to come.”  Happy Flag Day America.

***image4***Flag protocol

What if I’m inside at an event?

In uniform: Stand up, face the flag at the position of attention. If the flag is not present, face the music and stand at attention. Do not salute unless under arms.

Not in uniform: Stand at attention with your right hand over your heart. Men should remove their hats with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder while their right hand is over their heart.

How long do I hold my salute?

If not in formation, remain at attention saluting the flag until the National Anthem or “To the Colors” has finished playing (if flag is not visible) or the flag has been completely lowered and grasped. 

What do I do when reveille or retreat is played?

Whether in uniform or not in uniform outdoors: At the first sounds of reveille or retreat, stop where you are and turn to face the flag, or in a case where the flag is not visible, turn in the general direction of the flag. If in uniform, stand at parade rest. If indoors, there is no need to stand or salute.
What do I do if I’m driving at the time of reveille or retreat?

At the first note of the National Anthem or “To the Colors,” bring your vehicle to a complete stop and put the car in park. Everyone inside the vehicle should remain seated at attention.