A piece of silky material emblazoned with 13 red and white stripes and a blue field of 50 white stars is more than just a flag.

It symbolizes not only what our country is, but more importantly what it could be, said Larry Shelly, commander of American Legion Post 89 in Seymour.

Shelly addressed a small group of people gathered to celebrate Flag Day at One Chamber Square in downtown Seymour on Tuesday morning.

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“While many immigrants were inspired by the great lady in the harbor that embodies liberty, every one of us gets to see our stars and stripes displayed outside of homes in front of businesses and in offices every day,” Shelly said.

The flag reflects the traditions of America, including helping our neighbors and our freedoms to choose our beliefs, he added.

“Another great tradition that we have in America is respecting our nation’s colors,” Shelly said. “Our traditions are proudly demonstrated when we rise for the national anthem before a sporting event, celebrate Independence Day and cheer for marchers at a Veterans Day parade.”

That respect was shown by those in attendance who stood and faced the flag to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Legion member Jerry Tracey.

Flag Day also is when the American Legion retires the American flag flying at One Chamber Square and replaces it with a new one.

As part of the annual Flag Day ceremony, Seymour Elks Lodge 462 Honor Guard presented the history of the American flag.

“Most of you here today have known only one American flag — the one raised over us today,” said Elks member and past state Americanism chairman Don Hill. “A few of the older ones remember two different flags.”

Throughout history, the flag has changed to meet the changes of our country, he said.

On June 14, 1777, the U.S. adopted the flag by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. At that time, it featured 13 stars and 13 stripes, one for each of the original colonies. Two more stars and stripes were added in 1795 for Vermont and Kentucky.

But that was later changed back to 13 stripes and one star for each new state, leading up to the present 50.

“Americans have lived and died under many flags representing our country,” Hill said.

Eight of those flags were presented as part of the program, starting with the yellow snake flag from 1774 featuring the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.” It was followed by the pine tree flag, which was carried by the continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Other flags included the Grand Union flag, the Betsy Ross flag, carried by Elks National Scholarship winner Sadie Fallis of Seymour, and the 15-star, 20-star and 48-star flags.

Phil Hardwick of Seymour carried the present 50-star flag and tucked under his arm his own flag, which he served under while on duty in Iraq.

Hill said celebrating and protecting the flag is something all Americans should do.

“When we view the American flag, 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, carried by the brave men and women protecting our freedoms,” he said. “The freedom that allows us to gather here today. May we ever love and defend it.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.