Star Spangled Banner Still Waves

Member Group : Salena Zito


It is quite possible that all 7,620 people who live in this central Pennsylvania town lined up along Baltimore Street for the annual Memorial Day parade. It’s also quite possible that every one of them held an American flag.

The red-white-and-blue waves rippling along both sides of the street, seven people deep, certainly made it feel that way.

The scene was straight out of a Frank Capra movie: babies squirming in strollers, elderly veterans and their wives in folding chairs; teenagers zigzagging through the crowd; black, white, Hispanic — pretty much a cross-section of America waving flags (many bought for a dollar from strolling vendors) — as a high school band played "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The moment, simple and even kind of kitschy in that charming small-town way, was surprisingly inspirational in an uninspiring time. It gave pause to the standard narrative of a waning national impulse to be proud of the American values our flag represents.

Today marks the birth of the American flag. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress of the United States replaced the British flag with 13 white stars arranged circularly on a blue field and 13 red or white stripes. The red symbolized valor; the white, purity; the blue, perseverance.
As we grew, so did the number of stars. The last, our 50th, was added in 1960.

The tradition began in 1885, when a Midwest kindergarten teacher thought our stars-and-stripes should have a birthday. Inspired by the patriotism of schoolchildren who carried off the first event, the June 14 birthday party quickly spread and eventually was recognized by Congress as an annual affair.

It was meant to be a day for Americans to remember their loyalty to the nation, to reaffirm their belief in liberty and justice, and to observe the nation’s unity.

There is evidence all across this country that most of us, whichever side of the political divide we fall on, still hold those beliefs to be true, that most of us believe in our country’s promise, our communities and ourselves, which is arguably our greatest asset.

The political will to divide us lessens the strength we share as a reflective, thoughtful people. If you tune in too much to social media or cable news programs that pick sides, you might not believe that. But, as my wise father has taught every generation of our family, moderation in everything is a good practice.

One hundred years ago President Calvin Coolidge said a yearly contemplation of our flag strengthens and purifies the national conscience: "We see in the flag the great multitude of blessings, of rights and privileges that make up our country. But … we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done."

His sentiment is timeless, and I’d argue that it can’t hurt to think about it daily, especially in a world turned upside down by economic or ideological turmoil and a level of incompetency in our own government so profound that it hurts the senses. (In the past seven days alone we’ve learned government airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test by undercover teams, Secret Service agents newly assigned to the White House lacked security clearances, and the president announced to the world that he has no strategy to fight ISIS in Iraq.)

Thank goodness most people don’t confuse honoring our flag’s values with not honoring government when it is incompetent.

Respect for our flag doesn’t necessarily come from small-town parades, either.

Last week, while riding my bike in Pittsburgh, I nearly collided head-on with three black teenagers rounding a blind corner in my direction; all four of us veered to the side after the near-miss. One young man, not older than 16, jumped off his bike and ran over and put his arm around me: "You OK, ma’am?"

Smiling, thanking him profusely and nodding yes, I watched him walk back to his friends. I shouted, "Yes, I am. Yes, I am," and they all smiled and waved.

And there it was, that star-spangled banner, stitched to his backpack as they rode toward the city.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media ([email protected]).

Read more:
Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook