It was World War II and Hitler's “Fortress Europe” stood ominously between…

By Alex Berger

On June 6, 1944, 5,000 Allied ships, 2,000 aircraft, and 160,000 soldiers arrived on the northern coast of France to fight on beaches called Utah, Omaha, Gold, June, and Sword.

It was World War II and Hitler's “Fortress Europe” stood ominously between the soldiers and an end to the bitter war. Our troops carried military equipment and supplies, provisions, and other essentials into battle.

They also brought along another necessity – a multitude of colorful rectangular pieces of cloth. These were not weapons, yet they were as indispensable to our fighting men as any tool of war. These pieces of cloth were the flag, the symbol of our country.

Our flag had been brought into every battle in every war America has fought since the country's inception, from the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Bemnington on Aug. 16, 1777 right up to Desert Storm. Our soldiers rid the world of Nazi tyranny in World War II and carried home this banner in triumph, as their compatriots did in previous and subsequent years. Each victory, though, extracted an irreplaceable toll of precious American lives.

On June 14, we celebrate another Flag Day. Although it is an official holiday in only one state — Pennsylvania — it is one day that should be dear to every American. Historically, it was in Philadelphia that the Continental Congress adopted the first official American flag, on June 14, 1777. At the time, the 13 American colonies were fighting for freedom from Great Britain. As a symbol of their united effort, and their independence, they needed one flag.

When the Revolutionary War started in 1776, Americans actually fought under many different flags. One flag displayed a pine tree and the words, “An Appeal To Heaven.” Another had a rattlesnake and the words, “Don’t Tread On Me.” Others had “Liberty or Death” or “Conquer or Die.”

The newly devised flag had 13 stripes — 7 red and 6 white – and 13 white stats in a field of blue. No one knows who designed the flag or made the first one. There is also no record of why red, white, and blue were chosen as the colors of the flag. But it was thought that the red stands for hardiness and courage, the white for purity and innocence, and the blue force, perseverance, and justice. The stripes stand for the 13 original colonies and one star represented each state.

The popular belief that a committee composed of George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross called upon Betsy Ross of Philadelphia and commissioned her to make the first flag is very dubious. There is no substantial evidence that this ever occurred. Questionable, as well, are the words credited to George Washington about the origin of the flag’s colors: “We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity, representing her liberty.”

From the admission of Vermont into the union in 1791, through the admissions of Hawaii and Alaska in 1959, the 13 original stars expanded to 50.

I expect that this Flag Day will be the same as many previous ones — a day of apathy. Also, seeing the Stars and Stripes worn as a piece of clothing is most disconcerting to many veterans. Sadly, many of us have lost the flag’s true meaning.

Every Flag Day, I take solace in reading this wonderful passage below about 01’ Glory. It reignites my allegiance to our Grand Old Flag, and perhaps it will do the same for you. I took the liberty of updating parts of it:

“Hello! Remember me? Some people call me 01’ Glory, many call me the Stars and Stripes. I have also been referred to as the Star Spangled Banner. But, whatever they call me, I am your flag, or as I proudly state, the Flag of the United States of America.

“There is something that has been bothering me, so I thought I might talk it over with you…because it is about you and me. I remember that some time ago, people were lined up on both sides of the street to watch patriotic parades. The town’s schools were behind me, and naturally, I was leading the parade. When your father saw me coming along waving in the breeze, he immediately removed his hat and placed it against his left shoulder so that his right hand was directly over his heart. Remember? And you, yes, I remember you, standing there straight as a soldier. You didn’t have a hat, but you were giving the correct salute. They taught you in school to place your right hand over your heart.

“Remember little sister? Not to be outdone, she was saluting the same as you. Oh, I was very proud as I came down the street. There were soldiers home on leave and they were standing at attention giving the military salute. Also, I saw a few V.F.W. veterans with their caps at angles saluting smartly. Ladies as well as the men paid me the reverence I deserve. Now, do I sound a little conceited? Well, I am. I have a right to be because I represent the finest country in the world. More than one aggressive nation has tried to haul me down, but they all felt the fury of this freedom-loving country. Remember, many of you or your children had to go overseas to defend me.

“What has happened? I am still the same old flag. Oh, I have had a couple more stars added since you were a child. A lot more blood has been shed since that parade long ago. Many veterans are gone now. The hometown has a new look. The last time I came down your street, I saw that some of the old landmarks were gone, but in their place, shining majestically in the sun, were a number of new buildings and homes. Yes sir, the old hometown has changed.

“But now, I don’t feel as proud as I used to. When I come down your street, you just stand there with your hands in your pockets and give me a small glance, then look or turn away. When I think of all the places I’ve been…San Juan Hill, Chateau-Thierry, Anzio, Guadalcanal, Chosen Reservoir, Thanh Phong, Persian Gulf, and many others, I wonder what has happened. I am the same flag. But now, I see children running around and shouting as I pass by. They don’t seem to even know who I am. I saw an old man take his hat off, and then look around. He didn’t see anyone else with his hat off, so he quickly put his back on. Is it a sin to be an American patriot anymore?

“Have you forgotten what I stand for? Have you forgotten all the battlefields where men and women fought and died to keep this nation — your nation — free? When you salute me, you are actually saluting them. Take a look at the Memorial Honor Rolls sometime. Look at the names of those who never came back and are resting beneath white crosses and Stars of David on a far-away shore. Some of them were relatives and friends of yours — maybe some even went to school with you or your parents. That's whom you are saluting when you revere me.

“Well, it won’t be long until another Flag Day is here and I may come down your street again. So if you see me, stand straight, place your hand over your heart, and I will wave back. This is my salute to you as I will show you that I too, remember.” (Author unknown)

Flag Day is America’s Day of Gratitude. We should never forget to remember it.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 139

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