Whether flying in a neighbor’s yard, hung at the front of a classroom or held in the hands of children standing along a parade route, the American flag is a symbol of national pride.
On Wednesday morning, a small group of people gathered inside the American Legion Post 89 Annex in Seymour to pay tribute to the red, white and blue during the annual Flag Day ceremony.
The change in location didn’t diminish the celebration’s meaning or the patriotism felt by those who attended.
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The event, presented by the legion and Seymour Elks Lodge 462, was moved from One Chamber Square due to heat, the potential for storms and a water main break downtown.
As part of the ceremony, the Seymour Elks Honor Guard presented the history of the American flag, showcasing eight different versions, beginning with the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag featuring the image of a rattlesnake and ending with the current 50-star American flag.
The Elks provides American flags free of charge to schools to hang in classrooms, a project started by the Seymour lodge and adopted by the Grand Lodge for every Elks lodge in the United States.
“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 may remember two different flags.”
But throughout history, the flag has changed to meet the country’s changing geographical and political landscape, Hill added.
“Americans have lived and died under many flags representing our country,” he said.
The American flag is not only displayed in the United States but is stationed in many countries around the world, he said.
“Not necessarily that we want it there but that it is needed,” he said. “Wherever the American flag is seen, the viewer knows it represents freedom. We are not conquerors who control our enemies, but rather we give them freedom to become better people. It is our way, the American way.”
Hill’s granddaughter, Sadie Fallis, an Elks National Scholarship winner, read the history of the flag.
After Don’t Tread on Me came the pine tree flag, which was carried by the continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill in the early stages of the American Revolutionary War.
“In the latter part of 1775, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to consider the question of a single flag for the 13 colonies,” Fallis said. “That committee recommended a design of 13 alternate stripes of red and white, with a field in the upper corner bearing the red cross of St. George and the white cross of St. Andrew.”
This flag was known as the Grand Union.
Next came the Betsy Ross flag.
“Historians still quibble over the legend of Betsy Ross; however, it is generally believed that in May or June of 1776, a committee headed by Gen. George Washington commissioned Betsy Ross to make a flag from a rough design they left with her,” Fallis said.
But instead of the stars having six points, Ross suggested they have five.
In 1795, two additional stars and stripes were added for Vermont and Kentucky.
“Under this banner of 15 stars and stripes, we fought the War of 1812,” Fallis said. “It was the sight of it flying over Fort McHenry on Sept. 14, 1914, that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what was to become our national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”
After that, the number of stripes remained 13, but the field of stars grew to 20 to represent each state in the union. It also was decided that a new star should be added for each state thereafter.
“The 19th star represents our own state, the state of Indiana,” Fallis said.
In 1912, the addition of Arizona and New Mexico led to the 48-star flag. It was given the nickname “Old Glory” and flew through two world wars and the Korean War, Fallis said.
Forty-seven years later, Alaska and Hawaii became states and two more stars were added, giving us the present-day 50-star flag.
“This flag has now flown for 58 years over our nation,” she said. “We know that it waves throughout the world, in many cases under fire, and carried by the brave men and women protecting our freedoms. May we ever love and defend it.”
Legion Commander Odas Higginbotham said the flag needs to be honored, respected and celebrated on more than just Flag Day or for special occasions.
“We see spikes in flag displays after national tragedies. We celebrate our flag when we send astronauts to the moon, win Olympic gold or observe Independence Day,” Higginbotham said. “But while the flag can give us great comfort and hope, we should appreciate the freedoms symbolized by it every day.
“It is up to us to protect it. It is up to us to fly it proudly. It is up to us to honor it,” he said.