July 21, 2024

Reflections On Flag Day

This week, we celebrate Flag Day. Seventy-five years ago, Congress designated Flag Day to commemorate the Second Continental Congress adopting the flag resolution during the American Revolution on June 14, 1777: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The red, white and blue banner is woven into the social fabric of our communities, uniting citizens under common cloth and shared values for generations. School-age students learn the 50 stars represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes, the 13 original colonies. Seven red stripes embody bravery and valor, six white stripes represent purity and innocence and blue reflects vigilance and justice.

Looking through the lens of history gives Americans a richer appreciation for Flag Day –especially for the patriots who put their lives on the line during the Revolutionary War, and those who have fought tyranny and terrorism on distant shores since.

Francis Scott Key composed “The Star-Spangled Banner” after bearing witness to a 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. He wrote a poem about the flag’s triumphant, albeit tattered, appearance waving through “dawn’s early light.” That poem later became our National Anthem when Iowa’s native son, President Herbert Hoover, signed it into law. The 30-by 34-foot flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes is on display in the National Museum of American History.

History also tells us about a merchant sea captain who coined the moniker “Old Glory,” named for his oversized nautical flag. After decades at sea, William Driver retired and moved to Tennessee. Here, he continued to fly Old Glory at his home until the Civil War began, at which time the flag was sewn inside a quilt for safekeeping. When the Union Army captured Nashville in 1862, Driver presented Old Glory to the Union troops to fly from the state Capitol building. Today, Old Glory is housed at the National Museum of American History.

Nearly a century later, one of the most iconic images of the U.S. flag was captured in a wartime photograph on Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater. After 36 days of fighting, more than 26,000 service members were killed or wounded in Operation Detachment, making it one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Six Marines raised the U.S. flag on the fifth day of that battle, boosting morale as our troops fought tooth and nail to flush out the enemy. Corporal Harold “Pie” Keller, an Iowan, was one of the Marines who helped raise the flag on Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. Today, he is honored with a bronze statue in his hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Keller’s hometown also is known as the Community of Flags and holds an annual flag celebration each year close to Flag Day. The original American flag raised on Mount Suribachi is displayed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia.

These historical events reflect the U.S. flag’s enduring symbol of liberty and sovereignty, emblematic of the sacrifice America’s sons and daughters have made to serve our country in uniform. Indeed, the image of a fallen hero’s coffin draped in the American flag ought to send chills of sorrow and gratitude through the veins of Americans from sea to shining sea. As we honor the memories of those who gave their all in service to our country, let’s remember they made the ultimate sacrifice for all Americans, no matter one’s politics, tax bracket, zip code, creed or ethnicity.

Beyond the battlefield, the flag connects Americans of all ages and walks of life – in classrooms, civic ceremonies, community parades and sporting events. After 9/11, people across the country prominently displayed the flag from their homes, businesses and farms as a symbol of solidarity and patriotism. Looking ahead to the Summer Olympics, American athletes will march together behind the Stars and Stripes during the opening ceremonies. When I served as president pro tempore in the 116th Congress, it was an honor to open the people’s business in the U.S. Senate, leading the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and to our republic, for which it stands. I’m always pleased to help Iowans obtain a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to commemorate special occasions for families and friends.

Throughout the history of our republic, America has survived the test of time and thrived, seeking the promise of peace and prosperity. While some days it might seem as though the threads of our common cloth are unraveling, I have great hope for America. I encourage all Americans to celebrate Flag Day and call to mind the principles and purpose of our nation’s founding. We are the land of the free and home of the brave. On Flag Day and every day, whether at home or abroad, America cannot allow the lamp of liberty to dim.

Flag Day is June 14. Barbara and I fly the flag on the Grassley farm near New Hartford.