The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge #922's Flag Day ceremony at the Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse Thursday thoroughly explained the history of our "grand old flag."
Flag Day is celebrated on June 14 and commemorates the adoption of the United States flag by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. The Congress provided "That the Flag of the United States be 13 stri-pes of alternating red and white and that the union be 13 stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation."
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established June 14 as Flag Day but it was not until 1949 that President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress that set June 14 as National Flag Day.
"It is quite appropriate that such a service should be held by the Order of Elks, an organization that is distinctively American, intensely patriotic and without counterpart," Scott Bonafede, exalted ruler of the Elks, said.
Bernard Payne of the Elks gave a history of the flags used from colonial times to the present 50-star flag. As he explained about each flag, that type of flag was brought forward and set up in front of the stage by the Knights of Columbus.
"Heraldry is as old as the human race. The carrying of banners has been a custom among all peoples in all ages. These banners usually contain some concept of the life or the government of those who fashion them," Payne said.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
The Knights of Columbus presented the historical flags of the United States while Bernard Payne of the Elks explained about each.
When the English colonies were established, they used the flag of England. The Pine Tree Flag was adopted in 1775 and was used by all colonial vessels. This banner was carried by Continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Southern colonies used the Snake Flag from 1776 to 1777.
A flag with thirteen stripes of alternate red and white with a blue field bearing the red cross of St. George and the white cross of St. Andrew was recommended by a committee of the Continental Congress in 1775. Called the Continental colors, this flag was used on the flagship Alfred and also raised over General George Washington's headquarters in Cambridge.
The flag that represented the colonies and the new nation was believed to have been commissioned in May or June of 1776. This flag was first flown at Fort Stanwix near Rome, N.Y. and was carried in the battle of Oriskany, both of which occurred in August 1777.
In 1795, two additional stars and stripes were added to the flag to represent admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union. This was the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Key was inspired to write "The Star Spangled Banner."
In 1818, Congress adopted a resolution providing that from then on, the number of stripes on the flag should be 13 and the blue field should carry one star for each state in the union. Since then the design of the flag has not changed except for addition of the stars. By 1912, there were 48 stars. In 1959 Alaska was admitted to the union and in 1960 Hawaii which gives us our present flag.
Chuck Chasler, Lt. Colonel U.S. Army (retired) who has been an instructor of Junior ROTC at Dunkirk High School for the past 17 years gave his reflections about the flag, focusing on what it has meant to him personally.
He began by quoting lyrics from the George M. Cohan "You're a Grand Old Flag."
You're a grand old flag,
You're a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You're the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev'ry heart beats true
'neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there's never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
Col. Chasler chose to give those assembled "a snapshot of my 66-year relationship with 'Old Glory.'" He began with his earliest memory of troops returning home from the Korean War.
In his teens, Chasler was a Boy Scout and remembers flag ceremonies. One notable ceremony occurred when he was a member of a group of Boy Scouts chosen to raise the flag at the new Boy Scout headquarters on a hill overlooking downtown Pittsburgh.
"The flag was a large garrison flag and the wind whipping up the Ohio Valley that morning was intent on putting the flag and six Boy Scouts in low level orbit," he said.
Somehow the boys raised the flag.
Chasler recalled the flag burnings in the late 1960s. Years later he saw a float carrying soldiers from the 14th quartermaster detachment. Eighty-one percent of its soldiers were killed or wounded when an Iraqi Scud missile landed in their living quarters in Behrain, Saudi Arabia. Specialist Thomas D. Stone of Falconer was among the fatalities.
Fifteen years later, Chasler's daughter Meredith landed in Kuwait on Day 3 of Iraqi Freedom.
"Upon her return she presented me a flag flown on a combat mission over Iraq," Chasler said.
"To me the American Flag is more than a symbol. It is woven into my very moral fabric. It is a constant reminder of my duty, my obligation and my gratitude - the duty to serve my country and fellow man; my obligation to pass on to the next generation the noble ideas behind our flag; and finally gratitude that I was privileged to be born in this great country," he concluded.
Musical highlights of the program were singing of the "National Anthem", "God Bless America", and "My Country 'Tis of Thee." by Paulette Ziemba, and a patriotic medley by the Dunkirk High School Band under the direction of Jenn Scarem. The Dunkirk Joint Veterans Council provided the gun salute and Acquavia Post #1344 did the burning of retired flags. Robert Peterson played "To the Colors" and "Taps."
The Elks invited participants to their building on Central Avenue for refreshments.
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