Guest Commentary: American Flag a banner of unity

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Nick McGrath

This past Wednesday, June 14, was Flag Day in our fine country. Elevated to status of holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 during World War One, Flag Day marks the anniversary of the first congress adopting the banner with stars and stripes as the official flag and symbol of the newly independent North American Colonies. 

I have had the luxury and privilege the past several years of marking my Flag Day in the presence of teenagers who have been selected to participate in American Legion Boys State. Boys State (and Legion Auxiliary Girls State) are week-long programs operated by the American Legion to educate and promote civic engagement, public service, and Americanism. This is accomplished by the students from all over the state learning about and eventually creating their own state government in a week. As a program of the American Legion, the Flag is front and center at assemblies, is posted at the beginning of assemblies and retired at their conclusion, and is honored with the appropriate hand salute when seen or passed by. For most of the high school juniors that the program serves, this is the first time that they have thought about or reverenced the flag in this way, which I would say is a worthy exercise for all of us.

Email newsletter signup

While at Boys State, many distinguished guest speakers address the assembly to educate and inspire the delegates. These are leaders of the branches of government, authors, motivational speakers, and civil servants from all corners of the state. All of our delegates are taught about our form of government, how it works, where it can go wrong, and what their role in it is, even now as only a 17-year-old kid. 

The main themes of these talks are simple and likely something established in any government class: the right to self-rule, the guarantee of “certain inalienable rights,” the right to vote in free and fair elections, the rule of law, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and freedom from the government guaranteed in the Bill of Rights- allowing citizens the protections and rights that are due to them in a civil society. The Flag of the United States is a symbol of ALL of these things as the basic framework of American Politics since the beginning.

Boys State is an American Legion Program. Students at Boys State are given the opportunity to learn about the organization, its mission and origins, and all of its programs that work to create better communities. Additionally, the program affords delegates the opportunity to interact with members of the American Legion, who are all military veterans, who share their stories and experiences in service to our country in the military. Students walk away with a much deeper understanding of what public service looks like after talking to these veterans. Themes of duty, country, service, and sacrifice are common in the speeches taken in by the students throughout the week. 

It has been said that the American Flag waves not in the wind, but on the final breath of everyone who died to defend it. Flag Day, this year and every year, is an excellent opportunity for all of us to take note. Take note of the flag where it flies, and consider the places where it does not. To take note of the immense historical record of our country, and its flag, acting as a beacon of hope and opportunity to peoples in all corners of the world. To take note of the duties of a citizen of our great republic and to open ourselves to the idea of engagement and involvement with our government and our communities. To take note of the needs of our community and to ask ourselves how we may fill those needs. To take note of the future of our republic and to ask ourselves if this is the world we intend to pass on to the next generation of citizens.

And lastly, it is a time to take note of the immense blessing it is to be an American. The flag is a banner of unity that flies over all of us. We are Americans first, united in the principles that are enshrined in our founding documents. I find it fitting that Flag Day comes sandwiched in between Memorial Day and Independence Day. As we come off of the holiday weekend where we honor service and sacrifice of our military personnel and ramp up to a birthday party fitting to celebrate our great nation, we find ourselves this week with the opportunity to examine what our role is as citizens deemed by many to be worth dying for. 

Take note of the Flag and all that it stands for. It stands for us all.