One day in 1908 as he dined outside of Philadelphia, President Theodore Roosevelt noticed a man wiping his nose with a small American flag.
Outraged, Roosevelt grabbed a stick and began beating the fellow. After five or six good whacks, the President noticed that the bit of cloth was actually just a blue handkerchief with white stars.
So Roosevelt apologized — but then gave the poor fellow one more blow for getting him “riled up with national pride.”
Indeed, few symbols of national identity and pride have such a complex, emotional and vivid history as the American Flag.
Flag Day on June 16 honors both the symbol and the emotion as a result of a 1916 proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson – affirmed by an Act of Congress in 1949.
Granted — it’s mere cloth. But emotion must overtop reason sometimes, as when you see that flag draped over the coffins of the young men and women returning from defending their country now and in the past.
The flag has gathered that weave of emotion throughout its long history — both real and mythic.
For instance, most historians don’t believe Betsy Ross stitched together the first flag on instructions from George Washington. More likely, Declaration of Independence signer Francis Hopkinson designed it when he headed the Navy Board’s Middle Department. He billed the country a “quarter cask of the public wine” as payment, which Congress rejected on the grounds he was already receiving a federal salary and was not the only person to have contributed to the design.
The flag secured its place in the public mind after poet Francis Scott Key wrote what became the national anthem. Key wrote it after he watched the flag survive a 25-hour shelling by the British in 1814 at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.
Since then, the flag has flown atop Mt. Everest, at the North Pole and on the moon. It flies continuously by law over Valley Forge, Ft. McHenry, Arlington National Cemetery, the Green on the Town of Lexington and a handful of other locations.
Like all symbols, it has been abused to make all manner of political statements. It has been both trampled underfoot — and used to foster intolerance instead of the love of freedom for which so many paid so high a price.
But the emotions raised by these abuses only bear testament to the power of the sacrifice woven into its fabric — like the 1.7 million stitches required to restore the flag that flew above Ft. McHenry beneath the rockets red glare.
No doubt, Teddy should have counted 10 and looked a little closer before he swung into action. Then again, you’d best be careful when you rile up those Americans, for we do so love our flag and the freedoms and opportunities that go with living in the United States of America.
Vandals steal from everyone
Vandalism is no small thing. The damage done to public places like the Payson Library is a theft from all of us.
Our money — whether through private donations, contributions to fund-raisers, grants or taxes — built the beautiful Payson Public Library. Thousands of hours by volunteers and staff have made it one of the jewels in our community.
Vandalism, from graffiti in the bathrooms to the actual destruction of property, is a crime against us all. It is our library.
In these tight budget times it is struggling, like all public entities, to continue the level of service its mission requires it to provide. There is little room on the bottom line to clean up after thoughtless and heartless acts of vandals.
In the past the community stepped up and helped the library recover from another wave of vandalism, one in which a memorial bench to a girl who died of cancer was destroyed. We can step up again and make an effort to help the library again.