Flag Day ceremony evokes patriotic spirit in Seymour

A patriotic song played as one American flag was retired and another was raised Friday at One Chamber Square in downtown Seymour.

The new flag, which flew atop the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, whipped in the wind as the Seymour Fire Department’s honor guard and several others in attendance saluted.

The four-member honor guard from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 then fired their rifles once before Jenna Plumer sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Flag Day ceremony, conducted each year by American Legion Post 89 in Seymour, was patriotic from beginning to end.

Flag Day, which is celebrated each year on June 14, is a time to honor what the flag symbolizes, said Larry Shelly, Post 89 commander.

“We’re honoring the freedom, justice and liberty it stands for,” Shelly said. “We’re honoring the freedom to worship as we please, to speak as we please and to vote as we please. We’re honoring the hardworking men and women who have made the greatest and most successful country the planet has ever known.”

The flag also is a reminder of the possibilities and the potential of the United States, Shelly said.

“With the help of American patriots, that flag will continue to fly forever,” he said.

Each year, the Seymour Elks Lodge 462 honor guard participates in the program by presenting seven historical flags.

The Gadsden flag was the first one displayed. It’s based on Benjamin Franklin’s famous cartoon in 1754 that shows a segmented rattlesnake with each section bearing the initials of an American colony accompanied by the words “Unite or Die.”

Twenty years later, the colonies had united, and the snake was living on to angry new words, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Then came the pine tree flag. The pine tree was the traditional symbol of Massachusetts and was included in the banner carried by the continental forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

The Grand Union flag was the first one with a design of 13 alternate stripes of red and white with a field in the upper corner. It had the red cross of St. George and the white cross of St. Andrew in the upper left corner.

The next year, in 1776, a committee headed by Gen. George Washington commissioned Betsy Ross to make a flag from a rough design they created. She suggested the stars should have five points instead of six.

In 1795, two additional stars and stripes were added to represent the admission to the Union of Vermont and Kentucky. Seeing it flying over Fort McHenry on Sept. 14, 1814, inspired Francis Scott Key to write what became the national anthem.

In 1818, Congress adopted a resolution that the number of stripes should be 13, the blue field should carry one star for each of the 20 states in the Union and a new star should be added for each state thereafter admitted.

Arizona and New Mexico made it a Union of 48 states in 1912, and the 50-star flag came in 1959 with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii.

“This symbol, which we commonly call ‘our flag,’ has represented our country in many forms,” said Don Hill of Elks Lodge 462. “It has changed just as our country has changed. Americans have lived and died under these many flags, and each holds an important place in the history of our country.

“Whether it is flying from a staff, hung from a blackboard in a classroom, displayed in our yards or waved by a young child along a parade route, we also know that it waves throughout the world in many cases under fire and carried by the brave men and women protecting our freedoms,” Hill added. “The freedom that allows us to gather here today. May we ever love and defend it.”

Gayla O’Connor, who joined the Elks four years ago and is now a Lecturing Knight, displayed the Betsy Ross flag. This was her first time participating in the program.

“I was very proud,” she said. “I liked what we did with the whole description of the flag and how they’ve added the stars. I thought it was great.”

O’Connor said her sister’s birthday falls on Flag Day, but they make sure to celebrate the holiday. She said everyone should take time to honor the red, white and blue.

“A lot of people don’t even celebrate Flag Day. They don’t even know what it is. They just don’t even do anything for it,” she said. “But we’ve always celebrated it.”

Seymour Fire Chief Brad Lucas said the department’s honor guard has been a part of the Flag Day program for many years. They also participate in the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and funeral details for fallen firefighters.

“We’re proud to participate in it and support the Elks and the Legion on that,” Lucas said. “I think the history of the flags is really interesting, and we’re honored to be a part of it. We’re just proud to be here and serve the city and do that.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.