“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America…”

There they stood, a motley crew, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the middle of a courtroom.

Sitting in the gallery, I was trying to see my parents in the group. I was 9 when my parents became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. The courtroom proceedings were the naturalization ceremony.

I remember my mom doing her American history homework in the weeks prior to the test. Then came the ceremony where the Oath of Allegiance makes citizenship official. Finally my favorite part, the party at our home afterwards decorated in red, white, and blue. All my family’s friends came and celebrated with us.

Being born in the United States, I was already a citizen. Living in America, was all I had ever known. So, it wasn’t foreign or strange to see my parents join me in citizenship. But, unlike for me, it was a very conscious decision on their part. I am thankful, since a lot of the reason they chose to become citizens was for me and my siblings. Of course, I didn’t fully appreciate that until I was a little older and really understood what that meant. I talk more about my pride in our country and what is was founded on in my Smithsonian magazine article.

In the month celebrating the independence of my country, I would like to spotlight the most meaningful symbol of it, the American flag.

If you are in the American military, you are likely well-educated on the flag and the flag code. For the average non-military citizen, we usually only know what we have seen in ceremonies, funerals, or sporting events. So, let me enlighten those of you like me, who don’t know about the lesser-known details of flag history, symbolism, and etiquette.

 

Just the (flag) facts

Fact 1. The flag of the United States of America has several nicknames. Although I am sure that you are aware of them, do you know how they came about? Here is the scoop:

  • Stars and Stripes. If you imagine an aging Betsy Ross sitting by a fire sewing a flag, you are not unlike many Americans. However, there is some controversy surrounding who designed the first Stars and Stripes. There is no evidence that Betsy Ross created the design, only a story told by her grandson after she died. Another possibility is that it was created by Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He claims that he designed the flag and even billed Congress several times for the work. Another story has the design based on the Washington family coat of arms.
  • Star-Spangled Banner. This nickname came, of course, from the poem ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ written by Francis Scott Key and then put to the tune of an English song. The lyrics tell his sentiment after seeing the American flag flying victoriously over Fort McHenry following a battle he was sure was lost.
  • Old Glory. The name Old Glory was coined by Captain William Driver on his ship the Charles Doggett. It is said that friends had presented the flag to him. When it was raised and unfurled in the wind for the first time he exclaimed, “Old Glory!” There is an expanded version of Captain William Driver and his touching relationship with his beloved flag that you can read at usflag.org.

Fact 2. Flag day is June 14 and celebrates the 1777 resolution by Continental Congress to adopt the flag.

Fact 3. The current flag (Displaying 50 stars and updated on July 4, 1960 with the addition of Hawaii) was designed by a 17 year old high school student for a school project. Robert G. Heft got a B- for the project because it lacked originality and “anybody could make the flag.” His teacher promised to raise the grade if he was able to get congress to accept the design. They did, and Robert got his A.

 

American flag symbolism and appearance

  • Here is a tiny lesson in vexillology (study of flags – See? You learned something, didn’t you?). The upper hoist (left side because it is closest to the flagpole) quarter of the flag is the canton. In the American flag, it is blue with white stars representing a new constellation. I never knew this before and being an astronomy nut, I love it!
  • The symbolism behind the colors of the flag:

•  ‘Old Glory Red’ stands for hardiness and valor.

•  White stands for purity and innocence. (I won’t do the white because you won’t see it.)

•  ‘Old Glory Blue’ stands for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

  • The stars represent the heavens and man’s goals and aspirations.
  • The stripes represent the rays of light from the sun.
  • Gold fringe may be added bordering the flag for honorable enrichment only. It bears no significance.
  • Have you ever seen a flag that appears to be backward? Likely on a military uniform sleeve or vehicle. There is a reason for it. The canton (blue quadrant) is intended to be on the leading edge with the field of stripes waving or blowing in the wind behind it, as if the person or vehicle is in motion. Interesting!

As you have likely seen on some occasion, a flag folding ceremony has specific steps taken to create the triangle shape we are all familiar with. But did you know that there is a reading and symbolism that goes along with the folding? I didn’t. I am embarrassed for not knowing it before, but at least I know it now! Here it is:

  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  2. The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life.
  3. The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.
  4. The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace, as well as in times of war, for His divine guidance.
  5. The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  6. The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  7. The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
  8. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
  9. The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
  10. The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.
  11. The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  12. The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

 

American flag etiquette

The American Flag Code is the guideline for proper flag etiquette. There are no legal penalties for violation of any of the code. You are likely aware of most of the code through your observations and experience with the flag, but I have identified and bolded certain sections that you may not be familiar with.

  • …the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery… and for decoration in general. OK, I have to admit I have a shirt with a flag on it. It is small and tasteful (the flag, not the shirt! *wink*). I always knew it was frowned upon as clothing, but I thought it was just because it is usually is done in a less-than-stylish or cheap manner. Feeling a little ashamed… Also, how many parties have you been to with flag decorations and food made to resemble the flag? A lot.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. All I can think of is car dealerships. What else do you think of when you see a row of very large flags hoisted quite high alongside a highway. Perhaps, it is just my local environment. I don’t live super close to any military sites or national institutions.

 

How did you do?

Did you learn something new about the American flag? I learned quite a few things in my research. I am happy to know them and they only add to my respect and appreciation.

If you already knew everything here, I am impressed. I am guessing you have had some responsibility for the care or maintenance of the flag at some point in your life.

Let me know in the poll!

Did you learn something new from this article?

 

Resources

Flag at statesymbolsusa.org

Flag Code at legion.org

Flag Folding Ceremony at USflag.org

Flag Timeline at USHistory.org

History of American Flag at http://www.usa-flag-site.org/history/

Old Glory! at USflag.org

“The History Of…” The Flag of the United States: Table of Contents. Ed. Duane Streufert. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2015.

The Pledge of Allegiance at USHistory.org

The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner at Smithsonian.com

The Washington Window selbyabbey.org.uk

U.S. Flag Code at military.com

Wikipedia contributors. “Flag of the United States.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 May. 2015. Web. 2 Jun. 2015.

Wikipedia contributors. “Glossary of vexillology.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 May. 2015. Web. 3 Jun. 2015.