Consistent with later legislation, the number of stripes remains unchanged – 13, representing the original 13 states – and a star is added to the flag on the Fourth of July following the admission of a state to the Union. Even though the beautiful Betsy Ross “stars in a circle” design is a cherished element of our history, the first documented U.S. flag was the staggered pattern seen in the accompanying illustration. And no subsequent official U.S. flag design becomes obsolete – it may be flown at any time.
Worth highlighting is that the stars on the flag are of uniform size, shape and color as a representation of the intent that each state is to have equal standing in the Union – while acknowledging that each state is notably and wonderfully different; sovereign and distinctive; and essential to ensuring the success of the compound-republic federalism established by the U.S. Constitution.
Similar to the truth that meaning is not in words but rather in people, while significant symbolism is embodied in the American flag, the meaning is not as much in its design as in the minds and hearts of Americans who cherish the idea, the Providence-facilitated birth, and the continuing miracle of America.
We have recently commemorated Memorial Day, of which the primary purpose was and is gratefully to remember the lives of fellow Americans who have given “the last full measure of devotion.” Perhaps none so fully as the five sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, World War II sailors serving together on the USS Juneau, killed in action upon its sinking by an enemy torpedo in November 1942. In tribute to their memory, a Navy destroyer, USS The Sullivans, was commissioned a year later.
With gratitude and humility we remember the Sullivans and the hundreds of thousands of other sons and daughters by whose blood “the tree of liberty [has been] refreshed”; who with their sweat, toil and tears have been among the means by which God has blessed and “preserved us a nation.” And let us not fail to remember our fellow Americans currently serving in the U.S. armed services deployed around the world defending our freedoms … and the families that carry on in their absence, whose sacrifice is nearly as great.
What is Flag Day? It is another opportunity to celebrate the wonder and remember the sacred origins of our American homeland. A time to reflect on and express profound gratitude for the abundant privileges and blessings we might otherwise simply take for granted. And a moment to recommit to the conscientious vigilance with which our heritage must be preserved for our children and grandchildren – so soberly and eloquently expressed by Ronald Reagan.
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.