Yesterday, June 14 was Flag Day, which isn’t really celebrated much with the exception of the state of Pennsylvania, where it is a state holiday. But it was also the 243rd birthday of the United States Army. And my oh my, things certainly have changed.
Flag Day is observed on June 14, because on that day in 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States as the colonies fought to break away from England. On Congress’ agenda that day it was noted:
“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.”
Origin of Flag Day: We live in a time when it seems that no one can agree on what constitutes respect or disrespect for our national colors. Since President Trump took office about a year and a half ago, there has been a ton of disagreement on the entire flag which has ignited scores of dissenting opinions on each side.
But first, we must clear up a persistent myth that has been around since we were all kids and learned in school. Historians all agree that there is no direct evidence that Betsy Ross lobbied General Washington for the original Stars and Stripes.
To those glass-half-full types like myself, it doesn’t mean that she DIDN’T do it, it just means that there is no record of it. So that may be the stuff of legend, like Washington throwing a stone across the Potomac but I won’t be the one to contradict what Miss Bradley’s 1st Grade Class at the Rumford Elementary School taught.
There are several different opinions on where Flag Day began. Most involve public schools as to the origins of when it first was celebrated and observed. One theory had it begin in Wisconsin. In 1885, Bernard John Cigrand, who was a 19-year-old teacher in the one-room Stony School in Waubeka, Wisconsin had his students write essays on what the flag meant to them.
Cigrand later became a dentist in Chicago and became the head of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society and gave over 2000 speeches on patriotism and the flag.
Others in New York City believe that they are the founders of Flag Day. George Bolch, a public school teacher began a program in his class to help immigrant children feel more connected to their new adopted country. The New York Department of Education liked Bolch’s program so much that it said the day should be observed in all public schools. Eight years later in 1897, New York’s governor ordered all public school buildings to display the US flag.
One interesting bit of trivia the current flag design was done by a 17-year-old Boy Scout named Robert Heft. Heft attended Lancaster High School in Ohio and his class was given an assignment by his teacher to design a new flag once Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the United States.
So heft arranged the stars with five rows of six stars and four rows of five stars, spending more than 12 hours sewing his flag design. In a bit of short-sightedness, his teacher gave him a B-minus stating that his design was unoriginal. However, she offered to raise it to an A if the design was accepted nationally. So Robert Heft wrote to his congressman and the rest is history. The current U.S. flag was adopted on July 4, 1960, and Heft’s grade was changed to an A.
The Bennington flag was supposedly flown in the Battle of Bennington in 1777 by Nathaniel Fillmore, grandfather of President Millard Fillmore. While historians again will argue whether or not Fillmore actually flew the flag in battle, I’ll stay with the legend here as well as the legend is much more interesting.
While both Presidents Wilson and Coolidge issued proclamations asking for June 14 to be Flag Day, the day did not become official until President Harry Truman signed it into law on August 3, 1949.
Birth of the United States Army: The Army yesterday celebrated its 243rd birthday commemorating the date of June 14, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of expert riflemen to serve the United Colonies for one year.
This nascent Army was comprised of 22,000 militiamen who had already gathered outside of Boston, where many had already seen combat against the British at Lexington and Concord and would see even more in three days during the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s) Hill.
This number of troops were bolstered by 5,000 more militiamen from New York. The next day on June 15, 1775, George Washington of Virginia was named as the first commander-in-chief by the Continental Congress. They then voted to raise 10 more companies of riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.
Washington officially took command at Boston on July 3, 1775. The original Congressional budget for the new Army was $2 million. It wasn’t until July 4, 1776, for the Continental Army and the colonial militias to become known collectively as the Army of the United States.
Today the U.S. Army has about 467,000 active duty soldiers, with another 343,000 in the U.S. Army National Guard and 206,000 in the Army Reserves. It is the most professional force in the world with career officers and NCOs.
The Army is a far cry from the farmers who answered the call to form “in a minute” in the local Minuteman militias to the professional force it is today. The Army currently has just under 160 installations worldwide and owns nearly 24,000 square miles of land for its bases in the United States. That current size is larger than eight U.S. states. And the Army is the largest employer in the country.
General Washington started with a much smaller, less professional force back in Boston, 243 years ago, but it evolved over time and has changed from a militia heavy force to a power-projecting military capable of being anywhere in the globe in a matter of hours.