Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One War: Two Holidays

Decoration Day (Memorial Day), c. 1899 (photo: Corbis)

Two national holidays were born out of the conflict of the American Civil War: Memorial Day and Flag Day.

While Memorial Day honors the memory of those who died in battle, Flag Day simply honors the flag. It unifies. Given the particular way the Civil War tore this country apart, one can see the importance – and the need – for a holiday that remembers fallen heroes, and a holiday that unifies through the symbolism of a national flag. 
Photo: DVIDSHUB (commandposts.com)
On May 30, 1868, an early Memorial Day (then known as Decoration Day) was celebrated by decorating the graves of the Union and Confederate war dead at Arlington National Cemetery. This was per General Order No. 11 of Gen. John Logan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Decoration Day, more popular in the North than the South, served to honor the soldiers who died in the Civil War. (And yes, for a time there was a Confederate Memorial Day.)

In the 20th century, Decoration Day soon became Memorial Day, a holiday honoring all war dead. Interestingly, Memorial Day did not become a national holiday until 1971. It is tradition that members of the US 3rd Infantry Regiment (the "Old Guard") decorate the graves at Arlington National Cemetery (see photo above and this link: www.army.mil).

Gen. Logan's General Order No. 11 states:
"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land."

You can read the complete order at:

You can read Pres. Obama's Prayer for Peace at:

You can view the 2011 Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Service at:

The scoop about Flag Day coming soon!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Days of Strength: Military Birthdays & Armed Forces Day

Photo credit: Chattanooga Pulse
Freedom is never free. 

Armed Forces Day, c. 2010
 First, there's the Army.
It's been around since ... well, since the beginning. It totally created the idea of a voluntary force. But the US Army didn't celebrate a "birthday" until 1924. Then it celebrated again in 1925. Both times were on National Defense Test Day. It was not a popular holiday.
The date got moved to May Day in 1928 to compete with World Communism Day. Huh?
In 1936, FDR officially moved Army Day to April 6, the date we entered World War I.

Then there's the Navy.
From 1922-1950, Navy Day was celebrated on October 27 for two main reasons: In 1775, the Continental Congress decided to re-outfit merchant ships as warships, hence the idea of a naval corps was born. The other reason is that October 27 is the birthday of a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.

And the Marine Corps.
Ah, the Marines. They date to the Revolution, too. And like much about our Revolution, they find their way back to Philadelphia. Born on Nov. 19, 1775, the Marines said fare-thee-well after the Revolution was over.  It was too costly. But in 1798 they were back and under the jurisdiction of the Navy.
Marine Corps Day traditionally was celebrated on the Marine Corps' birthday, Nov. 10.

2011 Armed Forces Day poster
Don't forget the Coast Guard. 
Alexander Hamilton wouldn't: As Secretary of the Treasury, he created the first Coast Guard in 1790 for the express purpose of collecting US tariffs. Coast Guard Day traditionally was celebrated on August 4.

And then there's the Air Force.
Air Force Day was a completely different holiday. The Air Force was newer than any other military branch. On August 1 in 1907, the Army created an aeronautical division. On August 1 in 1947, President Truman recognized this branch of the military with an official Air Force Day, a part of the US Army. Now the Air Force is its own division of the military, the US Air Force.

United: The Dept. of Defense
In 1947, a governing body for all branches of the US military, was created: the Department of Defense. A few years later, all the military holidays were officially consolidated as well. Hence, Armed Forces Day, a day given to honor all the branches of the US military.

The original Armed Forces Day proclamation is here:
President Truman announces Armed Forces Day
Pres. Truman celebrates the first Armed Forces Day, 1950.

(Sources: Department of Defense, History.com, NYTimes archives, Wikipedia) 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Flag Flying Etiquette 101

There is etiquette for everything, including flying flags.

The original Star Spangled Banner: 
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

When you have a famous flag with bits of it being torn off and given away as mementos, you're not going to have much left of that flag! But that's what happened to the original Star-Spangled Banner as well as many others. Hence, the US Flag Code was born.

The US Flag Code is the official document explaining:
• when to fly the American flag
• how to fly the flag
• how handle the flag
• what to do with an old flag 

Want to see the Code?
US Flag Code courtesy of Cornell University Law School

The Cheat Sheet for flying the flag:

1. Never let the flag touch the ground. Never. Ever.
It is considered very disrespectful as the flag is our national symbol and because so many have died defending it and what it stands for.

2. Never fly another flag higher than the US flag.
In point of fact, the American flag should fly above all others. In tricky diplomatic situations, well, this is when you need to read the Code!

3. Don't just throw an old flag out!

Technically, when a flag is too worn to fly, it is formally "retired" in a formal retirement ceremony. Each year (around Memorial Day, btw), local VA chapters or even local Boy Scout troops have a ceremony to correctly "retire" the flag.
Best bet: contact a local VA or Boy Scout Troop.  

4. How to raise and lower the flag
It generally takes 2 people so that it does not accidentally touch the ground (see #1). One clips the flag to the pole and then hoists it up while the other person holds the flag as it unfurls. It is taken down (generally at sunset) in the same way: One person lowers it. One person makes sure the flag does not touch the ground. Then it is folded. 

5. How to fold the flag
It's much easier to see it then to read about it so try this:
how to fold the American flag

6. The Official Flag Flying Holidays:
• New Year’s Day, January 1
• Inauguration Day, January 20
• Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
• Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
• Easter Sunday (variable)
• Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
• Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
• Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
• Flag Day, June 14
• Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
• Independence Day, July 4
• National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, July 27
• Labor Day, first Monday in September
• Constitution Day, September 17
• Columbus Day, second Monday in October
• Navy Day, October 27
• Veterans Day, November 11
• Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November 
• Christmas Day, December 25
• "and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States"
• the birthdays of States (date of admission)
• on State holidays 

Lady Liberty c. 1862
non-copy-righted photo

Friday, May 6, 2011

The First Flag: The Grand Union

In the fall of 1775, Mr. James Wharton arrives at Mistress Margaret Manny’s Philadelphia millinery shop with over 100 yards of red, white and blue bunting from which the good seamstress is to make a ship’s flag. In this case, the ship is the Alfred, one of the first war ships in a navy that has but a handful of ships – literally. (Sources vary in their count, placing the number of ships anywhere between 4-6.)

The Alfred, a 30-gun frigate manned by 300 sailors, anchors in Philadelphia’s Delaware River. On December 3, 1775, her new First Lieutenant, John Paul Jones, has the honor of raising, before a cheering crowd of sailors and civilians alike, the first flag to fly over any American war ship.

“I hoisted, with my own hands, the flag of freedom,” says Jones later (www.ushistory.org).

The flag Lt. Jones raises is new as well as familiar: With a bold design of 13 stripes in alternating colors of red and white, it also contains, in the upper, left-hand corner, the British Union Jack.

This first flag of the Revolution is called the Grand Union. ... And yep, in the heat of battle, things could have gotten confusing!

A post script:
The Union Jack, interestingly, is its own hybrid. Its design is made from superimposing England’s red St. George’s cross on top of Scotland’s white St. Andrew’s cross. These are laid against a dark blue field.