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A history of Flag Day and the United States ‘flag code’


June 19, 2013
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

"My mother is a 'Flag Day Baby'"

"Huh? What's that supposed to mean?"

"She was born on Flag Day, 1917."

Article Photos

Photo by David Prenatt
From left to right, William Mulson of the Westfield VFW 6764, John McCutcheon fo the Ripley VFW 2769, Dave Bower of the Ripley VFW 2769 and Robert McIntosh of the Westfield VFW 6764 presided over a flag retirement ceremony on Flag Day, June 14, 2012. Approximately 350 American flags were properly retired at the joint ceremony adjacent to the Ripley town building.

"So, what and when is Flag Day?"

According to an official Flag Day website, "Flag Day is a celebration of the adoption of the American flag by Continental Congress in the First Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777. Although the ... anniversary of this date was celebrated by flying flags on public buildings and holding remembrances in several cities, Flag Day wasn't officially recognized until President Harry Truman signed it into law in 1949."

In 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand, a school teacher who was nicknamed "Father of Flag Day," held the first unofficial observance of Flag Day at Stony Hill School in Waubeka, Wis. Over the years it is claimed he gave 2,188 speeches on the flag and patriotism around the country, leading the Chicago Tribune to note Cigrand "almost single-handedly" established Flag Day.

Fact Box

The office of the Westfield Historian is located at 117 Union St., in the small green building on the north side of driveway. Office hours are by appointment; call or email a request. The Westfield Historian phone number is 326-2457 and email address is

Several other people, however, not knowing about Cigrand, have claimed to be founders of Flag Day. In 1889, George Bolch, principal of a free kindergarten in his New York City school, started celebrating the anniversary of the flag resolution. "Soon the State Board of Education of New York, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia and the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution celebrated Flag Day too," according to the website. In 1893, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin and president of Colonial Dames of Pennsylvania, pushed for a resolution naming June 14 as Flag Day, but it wasn't until 1937 that Pennsylvania became the first state to make Flag Day a legal holiday.

After the first early observances of Flag Day, it took "many individuals, organizations, mayors, governors, and five presidents," according to the website, until President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that June 14 become National Flag Day. President Coolidge, in 1927, issued a second proclamation, and so on, until finally, in 1949, Congress approved it and it became a law. Not long after Flag Day became official, state superintendents of schools were required by another law to make sure patriotic holidays like Memorial Day, Flag Day, Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday were celebrated in schools.

A simple sentence in the United States Flag Code states, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."

Growing up in the public schools of the 1940s and 1950s, and having a mother born on Flag Day, provided deeply ingrained habits regarding respect for our flag. So it caused me some consternation since I returned to Westfield in 2003, and walked about town, to many times find flags thrown onto yard debris piles or in trash receptacles. These flags were always rescued and, if damaged, then taken to the local American Legion Post for proper disposal at their flag burning ceremonies. Flags in good condition have been used to decorate at the cemetery or be displayed at home or businesses.

At a recent meeting of Westfield Cemetery Association, a discussion of concern about the apparent lack of knowledge regarding the proper disposition of badly worn American Flags led to the suggestion of education regarding the U.S. Flag Code and providing a proper flag burning ceremony at the Westfield Cemetery in conjunction with Flag Day. This was discussed with Jim Kaufman at the American Legion, who explained it takes a lot of organizing, scheduling with the Legion, planning the location and advertising in advance and requires several officers to do the proper ceremony. Also, since Flag Day this year is on Friday, and it would be better to have such a ceremony on Saturday, Kaufman recommended we plan to have a proper flag burning ceremony next year. This would allow more working citizens as well as the school children and Boy Scouts to participate and share in a patriotic educational experience.

Meanwhile, if you have some worn and tattered flags you wish to retire, take them to the American Legion headquarters at the corner of East Pearl and Clark Streets, Westfield, N.Y.

Thank you.



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