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A Brief History of the US Flag

A Brief History of the US Flag
By Jim Massey

No matter where you may travel in the United States, or for that matter, around the world, flags of one variety or another are a consistent sight. National, state, military service branch, POW/MIA, and organizations of all types, flags are not only a source of identification and pride, but a reminder of history…and for many, a reminder of what that history means in terms of lives impacted by injury and, for others, the ultimate sacrifice: death.

Our “Stars and Stripes” is by far the most recognized symbol around the world. Given the prominence of the United States upon the world stage, it is a symbol of freedom, opportunity, pride, and hope for some; envied by others; and yet for others still, a symbol to which various messages of hate and division are attached. Given the overwhelming prominence in the mainstream media to the above-mentioned negative aspects of what the symbol of our nation represents, it is my hope that this article, along with the next three, provides a source of light with which we can take pride—pride in who we are as a nation and what our flag truly represents not only to Americans, but to all people around the world.

While a number of flags represented the American Colonies prior to the Revolution, Betsy Ross is historically credited with having sewn the first American flag. This flag consisted of 13 alternating red and white stripes, with a circle of 13 stars upon a blue field, and was formally adopted by Congress as the national flag on May 29, 1777. A number of subsequent flags were designed as states joined the Union, with varying positions of stars and stripes, but it was the design of 1818 with which most Americans are familiar: 13 horizontal, alternating red and white stripes, with a blue field in the upper left corner. The only variation since that time has been the addition of one star for each new state.

Perhaps the most popular image of our flag is one consisting of only 48 stars. At approximately 10 a.m. on February 23, 1945, six U.S. Marines raised a small U.S. flag atop Mt. Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. What is not known to many is that this was actually the first of two flag raisings, its image captured by Marine photographer Sergeant Louis R. Lowery. The now-famous image taken by Joe Rosenthal was the second flag atop Suribachi, using a much larger flag and raised by 5 Marines and a Navy Corpsman. Both flags are now on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, near Quantico, Virginia.

Former President Ronald Reagan referred to America as “‘a shining city on a hill,’ and its promise, as well as its people’s, was boundless.” Seventy years and two stars following its Mt. Suribachi predecessor, the Stars and Stripes are displayed with prominence, a beacon of freedom and hope, shining throughout the world.

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