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The Story of Old Glory


We all know that the American flag has 50 stars and 13 red-and-white stripes, but it didn’t look like that in the beginning.

The first American flag was dubbed the Continental Colors or the Grand Union Flag. It boasted familiar red-and-white stripes, but the Union Jack was in the field instead of stars. This flag was flown from American naval vessels in the first year of the Revolutionary War

On June 14, 1777, the American flag started shining with stars after the adoption of the Flag Resolution, passed by the Second Continental Congress: “Resolved, 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.”

Any true-blue American can tell you that the stars on the flag represent the states, but did you know that the colors of the Star Spangled Banner are symbols, too? The red stands for valor, white for purity and blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice.

A man from Holland, visiting a friend in the states, was explaining the red, white and blue in the flag of Netherlands. “Our flag symbolizes our taxes,” the man said. “We get red when we talk about them, white when we get our tax bill, and blue after we pay them.” “That’s the same with us,” the American said, “only we see stars, too.”

In 1795, the flag started looking like the flag we know today with a field of stars instead of a circle. However, Congress added two more stripes with the admission of Vermont and Kentucky. The 15-star, 15-stripe flag was the flag immortalized in Francis Scott Key’s poem entitled “Defence of Ft. McHenry,” which later became The Star-Spangled Banner. President Herbert Hoover made Key’s poem, set to the melody of a British drinking song, our official national anthem on March 3, 1931.

When I was a kid, I learned that the first American flag was sewn by Betsy Ross, though some historians doubt this. What kids are not taught was that Betsy was a social scientist who developed the techniques now used by Gallup and others.

It started when she asked the Founding Fathers what they thought of the flag she had made. This was the origin of … the flag poll.

Speaking of flagpoles, Bubba and Junior were standing at the base of a flagpole, looking up.

A blonde woman walked by and asked what they were doing. “We’re supposed to find the height of the flagpole,” said Bubba, “but we don’t have a ladder.” The woman took a wrench from her purse, loosened a few bolts, and laid the pole down. Then she took a tape measure from her pocket, stretched it out and announced, “Eighteen feet, six inches,” and walked away.

Junior shook his head and laughed. “Ain’t that just like a dumb blonde! We ask for the height, and she gives us the length!”

Did you know that you are not supposed to fly the flag in the dark, unless there is a light on it, and it should also not fly in bad weather? The United States Flag Code gives us this and many other guidelines for handling Old Glory. For instance, when the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object except by waiting hands and arms.

The Flag Code also stipulates proper behavior during the Pledge of Allegiance. When we recite the pledge, we should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men and women should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hands and hold it at the left shoulders, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.

A resident of Covina, CA recalls reading something years ago about a child reciting the Pledge this way: “I led the pigeons to the flag.” A man in Cleveland, when he was reciting the Pledge as a kid, wondered who Richard Stands was – as he explains it, “ You know – ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for Richard Stands.’

All joking aside, let us honor Old Glory this Fourth of July and every day, ever-mindful of the republic for which it stands–and the brave men and women who have stood for it.

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