Flag Day often overlooked as day of national pride

While many people fly their American flags with pride, the quiet Flag Day holiday often passes with little recognition. But those who appreciate its symbolism strive to share their devotion to the national icon’s deeper meanings.

06/14/2012 5:00 AM

06/14/2012 11:35 AM

There will be no fireworks and no time off from work. In fact, there may not be any celebration at all. But the calendar shows that Thursday is the designated holiday to honor the stars and stripes: Flag Day.

Officially recognized for nearly a century — President Woodrow Wilson first established June 14 as Flag Day in 1916 — but long overlooked in terms of significance to most Americans, Flag Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. flag in 1777.

Bill James, manager of the American Legion post in Palmetto Bay, said he believes the holiday provides an opportunity to honor the nation’s most recognizable symbol.

“The flag is a symbol of our country and our history,” said James, 67, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam. “It’s what soldiers die for — protecting the country, the owner of our flag. It’s to be respected, cared for and honored. The flag is a symbol of who we are.”

James said that Post 133 held a service on Memorial Day to burn flags that were turned in by residents who wanted to ensure that their tattered, unserviceable flags were given proper disposal. He estimates that nearly 100 flags of all sizes were ceremoniously burned at the Pinecrest American Legion station.

“There are a lot of very conscientious people in our community,” he said. “You see a lot of flags and a lot of patriotism.”

Though many people fly or hang their American flags with pride, the quiet holiday devoted to the national icon passes with little recognition. Celebratory holidays like July 4th and Memorial Day typically attract more attention.

“Flag Day is kind of a bore and people forget about it, but it’s really the birthday of our flag since 1777,” said Mike Buss, deputy director for flag advocacy at the American Legion headquarters in Indianapolis for 17 years. A former officer in the U.S. Navy, Buss said he challenges people to stump him with a flag-related question that he can’t answer.

His specialty is the flag code, which Congress passed into law in 1942 as a set of rules for consistent and respectful flag displays. While there is no penalty for flying flags improperly, Buss maintains the code is an important part of the United States’ flag history.

“Most people don’t realize that there’s actually public law to govern flags,” he said, “but nine out of 10 people will go out of their way once they know how to make it right.”

The flag code for civilian displays states that, among other things: The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously; the flag may be displayed during hours of darkness only if it is properly illuminated; when the flag of a different nation is flown next to the American flag, it must be on a separate staff of the same height.

“The big thing is just to know that there are rules in place,” Buss said. “I’ve seen over the years that most people will bend over backwards to make sure they’re displaying their flags properly.”

In fact, some Americans care so deeply about respecting the flag that they have formed a Citizens Flag Alliance. According to the CFA’s website, it is an organization that intends to protect the flag from desecration.

The American flag was protected by law for more than 100 years — starting in the 1880s — and the CFA is now working to persuade Congress to pass an amendment prohibiting individuals from burning flags as a means of expression.

However, the “Flag-Burning Amendment,” as it is commonly known, has sparked controversy over whether it would inhibit free speech or political thought. The last attempt to adopt the amendment failed in the U.S. Senate by one vote in 2006.

Despite the absence of any legislature that protects the flag from poor treatment, a look at the laborious process of manufacturing American flags might deter most people from defiling them.

Goodwill Industries owns and operates a flag-manufacturing plant in Allapattah that, according to its website, has the highest-quality embroidery equipment in the Southeast.

The company creates and sells American flags ranging from 3-by-5 to 6-by-10 feet.

Lourdes Little, Goodwill’s vice president of marketing, said they see the flags from start to finish, noting that “we cut the stripes, embroider the star fields, package them and send them out.”

Many of the flags manufactured at Goodwill are known as “interment” flags — in other words, they are created specifically to be draped over the caskets of U.S. military veterans. Using machinery from the 1920s that Goodwill purchased from a shop in Hollywood, Fla., about five years ago, the factory produces nearly 500 interment flags every day for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Little said the plant also makes Cuban, city of Miami, state of Florida and custom flags. Goodwill’s mission is to help place people with disabilities in the workforce once their confidence and independence is developed. Of the 1,400 people given community jobs last year, Little estimated that 50 are currently working in the flag center.

“Many of the people on the line come from other countries seeking independence, so it’s very meaningful that they end up working in a place where they actually create the symbol of our independence,” Little said.

At the Miami Children’s Museum, there will be a Flag Day “drop-in” activity today at 3:30 p.m. where kids can design their own versions of the American flag. The museum’s educators hold various daily activities and planned one for the holiday to teach visitors a bit of history.

“It’s hard to get across what the flag means and what it represents,” said Danielle Newton, associate director of museum experiences. “For kids, it’s just a flag. They don’t know the meaning of the stars and stripes. So, hopefully, we give them some background and help them appreciate it.”

The activity will be held in the museum’s art studio. Participation is free with regular paid admission.

Louis Clark, a U.S. Navy veteran who taught at several Miami-Dade County elementary schools, looks at Flag Day as a meaningful act of patriotism, which “we need a little bit more of.” He said he used to hand out small American flags to mark the holiday in his classroom.

“The national anthem plays, we say the Pledge of Allegiance with our hands on our hearts, but we never appreciate the flag,” Clark said. “It is a special day. That’s the bottom line.”

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