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Independence Day, a time to reflect on our nation’s symbol

30 Jun 2016 | 2nd Lt. James Ackerman Marine Corps Base Quantico

When America first came into existence, a symbol for our new nation was needed. And so, in short order, a flag with 13 stars and stripes was sewn together by a Philadelphia seamstress. Or so the story goes. But the history of our flag ultimately is as varied as the states which make up the United States.

The flag of 13 stars and stripes was not the first flag to represent the former British colonies. That distinction goes to the flag known as the Grand Union Flag, similar to the flag we all know with 13 stripes, but with the British Union Jack in place of the stars all the following flags had. Known at the time of the American Revolution as the Continental Colors, the Grand Union Flag served as the official flag of the United States from December of 1775 until June of 1777, when the iconic flag of the American Revolution was created.

On June 14, 1777, (commemorated as Flag Day today), the Second Continental Congress called for the creation of a new flag. The earliest examples of what we call the ”Betsy Ross” flag can be traced to this era. There is some contention as to whether the iconic 13 stars in a circle with 13 stripes actually dates to 1777 or later. Regardless, it is agreed that Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, aided in designing a flag for the young nation (contrary to myth, George Washington had no hand in it as he was the commander of the Continental Army at the time and on the frontlines).

The design submitted by Hopkinson has, with the exception of the pattern of the stars, served as the flag of the United States virtually since the birth of the nation. Initially, the pattern and number of the stars was debated as to whether it should stay the same or grow when the size of the newborn union grew. Experimenting with adding both stars and stripes for each new state was tried at various points in the early years following the ratification of the Constitution. In time, it was decided to add a new star for each new state admitted to the Union while keeping 13 stripes to remember the original 13 Colonies. Thus began the tradition that, for now, ended with the addition of a 50th star in 1960 for Hawaii.

Even through the terrible years of the American Civil War, when brother fought brother, and fathers their sons, the flag stood as a testament to the dedication of the Union cause of reuniting the nation. While the flag flown by the Confederacy had the same number of stars as states that seceded, the Union flag never took a star away for those states that had decided to declare rebellion. This, amongst others, was a way for the Union to loudly declare that the future of America was as one nation united, not two divided.

Following the Civil War, the American flag has traveled the world over, and then some. From the halls of Montezuma and the trenches of France, to the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of the Middle East, the flag has become an iconic image of the United States and everything we stand for, wherever we go. The flag even went with us to the Moon a few times as well, a proud symbol for the only nation to have reached the Earth’s satellite to date. And possibly most important of all, the flag symbolizes our national mood, lowered when we are in mourning following a tragedy and waving majestically when triumphant.

The American Flag is a symbol that is meant to transcend where we come from or what we may privately believe in. It is a unifying symbol, around which we can all proudly claim we are Americans.

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