Raising a Red (White, and Blue) Flag

I knew this was coming. When you blog several hundred times over, you start to wonder, “Have I already covered this topic?” Today’s subject seemed like new territory so I answered with a resounding, “No, I haven’t”… and I was wrong. Way wrong. Turns out, I’ve already discussed a certain mid-June U.S. holiday twice in previous posts. Whoops. Is this what happens when you turn sixty or am I subconsciously determined to elevate a somewhat meaningless festivity?  Okay, don’t answer that.  Just bear with me while I unfurl my opinion for a third time here. Happy Flag Day, America.

You missed it again, darn you. You’re reading about Flag Day here, at least two days after the fact, and now you’re wondering how you could’ve possibly forgotten to raise your Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.  I mean, c’mon, you did raise your flag on Memorial Day, right?  And you’re planning to do the same on July 4th?  So how could you forget the “holiday” smack dab in between?  Think about it.  Technically we celebrate the birthday of our flag on June 14th (and this year we put 245 candles on her red, white, and blue cake).  Isn’t the birth of our flag more important than honoring our fallen military or celebrating our independence?  Of course it is… NOT.

I’m struggling (third time over) to appreciate Flag Day.  We celebrate a big birthday at Christmas (er, some of us) and another one on July 4th (again, some of us).  Those are major parties.  With the former, we have an entire season leading up to the holiday itself – music, food, presents, and decorations galore.  With the latter, we have parades, festivals, 5K races, family barbeques, fireworks, and more decorations galore. But June 14th? Just another day at the office, I say.  Unless your town throws a parade like Quincy, MA (“Longest-running of its kind!”), Troy, NY (“50,000+ spectators!”), or Three Oaks, MI (“Three-day celebration!”), you didn’t even think about raising your flag. And for the record, the Troy, NY parade called it quits five years ago.  Can you say “holi-dying”?

Pre-1777 version (no stars!)

No disrespect to the U.S. flag, mind you. The red, white, and blue has quite the history.  The version you see these days is the twenty-seventh since its birth in 1777.  She flies permanently (all day, every day) in over twenty locations, including the U.S. Capitol, Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, and the moon (yep, that one).  And I’ll bet you didn’t know, the American flag “should be displayed at full staff” on eighteen calendar holidays.  Even on Christmas.  But especially on Flag Day (sarcasm with a capital “S”).

“Superflag”

Trivia break (because we need a break).  I’m here to tell you the largest American flag – as deemed by the good people at Guinness – is not in Texas (after all, everything’s bigger in Texas).  It’s Superflag and it’s deserving of its nickname.  Superflag (“It’s not just a flag, it’s a feeling!”) is 1.5 times the size of a football field.  It weighs 3,000 pounds and needs 600 people to hold it up.  A single star in Superflag’s field of blue is seventeen feet high.  That’s a big banner, citizens; so big, in fact (and unwieldy), its creator birthed “Superflag Jr.” as a more convenient size.  You’ll see Junior unfurled before the Super Bowl, covering almost the entire field.

Giant flags may fire me up but here’s a subject that does not: Betsy Ross. Sure, “Elizabeth” was a real person, living in a real house (which you can still tour today in Philadelphia); an upholsterer by trade and a talented seamstress besides.  She was even an acquaintance of George Washington.  But credit her with creating the very first American flag?  Sorry, compatriots, it’s just not true (or at least there’s no evidence to prove it).  Makes for a quaint story from our colonial roots, but when any association of Betsy and the first flag includes “purported” or “legend”, you have to wonder who makes this stuff up.

Talking about Superflag and Betsy Ross makes you think I don’t have enough to say about my original topic. You would be correct. But if you simply must know more about Flag Day (and for the record, I don’t think you must), check out my previous posts American Hollow-Day (full of mirth) and Banner Birthday (less tongue-in-cheek).  Neither “old-glorifies” June 14th any better than this one… nor did the zero-count of American flags I saw on Tuesday around town.  This holiday is on the ropes, people.  I’m not here raising a red, white, and blue flag but more like, a red flag. Third blog strike. I’m out.

Some content sourced from the We Are The Mighty article, “This is the world’s largest American flag”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

The Fourth on the Fence

America’s Independence Day celebrations go full-on patriotic today, including a plethora of centuries-old traditions. Barbecues and fireworks. Downtown parades with marching bands. Baseball, apple pie, and ice cream. Flags, and countless costumes of red, white, and blue. Another round of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. These are the images consistent with America’s 243rd birthday party. But tennis shoes and tanks? Nope; not what I had in mind.

Photo by Nike

I’m referring to recent headlines, of course.  Nike – in an obvious nod to Independence Day – produced a limited-edition running shoe with the “Betsy Ross” on the heels (the version of the American Flag with a circle of thirteen stars on the field of blue).  The shoe would’ve made it to hundreds of feet were it not for concerns voiced by activist (and Nike spokesperson) Colin Kaepernick.  In response, Nike immediately recalled the shoe.  In response to that, the state of Arizona withdrew financial incentives for the construction of Nike’s latest manufacturing plant.  In response to that, the state of New Mexico created a political fence at the NM/AZ border, inviting Nike to “come on over”.  “Betsy Ross” instantly became a hot topic on Twitter.

Photo by Andrew Harnik – AP

As for the tanks, President Trump requested “reinforcements” for the “Salute to America” parade and flyover in Washington D.C.  In a nod to the U.S. Armed Forces, parade-goers will enjoy a convoy of loud-and-proud servicemen and women and their vehicles.  I can’t think of anything more patriotic: a fortified Independence Day parade in our nation’s capital hosted by the leader of the free world.  But like the Betsy Ross shoes, we have controversy.  D.C. locals are worried about tank-track damage to city streets and bridges.  More predictably, the progressive left sees President Trump’s actions (and Salute speech) as an inappropriate opportunity for political gain.  In response to that, there will be protestors and flag-burners galore.

My Independence Day childhood memories have nothing to do with flag-burning, let alone tennis shoes and tanks.  Our family would trek to the beach in Southern California full of pride and patriotism.  We’d spread blankets on the sand at dusk alongside thousands of others, with a couple of buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner.  My brothers and I would run around in circles with sparklers.  When it got dark enough we’d enjoy the fireworks erupting from a nearby pier.

As a teenage boy – and budding pyrotechnic – Independence Day was all about the fireworks.  My dad would purchase a large “Red Devil” assortment and we’d set them off on the beach.  My favorites included “black snakes”, “ground-spinners”, and “fountains”. (Alas, I never experienced the machine-gunner thrill of hoisting a Roman Candle.)

When my own children were young, I delighted in our local (and thoroughly hokey) Independence Day parade.  Our supermarket participated with a group of dancing, shopping-cart-wielding cashiers.  Our dentist shamelessly advertised on a float with a giant toothbrush. But our son carried the flag as a Boy Scout and our daughter rode her pony as part of an equestrian team.  Later in the evening we’d gather at the shore of the nearby lake to watch the fireworks display, fully funded by donations to the local fire department.  Small-town America at its best.

Like any other living, breathing American, I have my opinions on the tennis shoes and tanks.  I don’t think Nike intended to dredge up Revolutionary War-era civil liberties simply by displaying the Betsy Ross on its products.  I don’t think President Trump did anything more than exercise the privilege of the office by serving as host of our nation’s capital’s celebration.  In both cases, I think digging for dirt below the surface only makes things dirtier.  I’d wear the shoes or attend the Washington D.C. bash without an iota of self-consciousness.  I’d simply be an American celebrating our Independence Day.

Nike defended its shoe recall by claiming it’s “proud of its American heritage”, but worried the Betsy Ross would “unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday”.  President Trump’s advocates said he’s “… not afraid to buck convention and put his own twist on these types of events”.  How about we get off the fence, take a step back, and remember what we’re celebrating?  America’s birthday deserves more than focus on yesterday’s regrettable events or today’s relentless politics.  Perhaps – just for a day – we could be the “United States” of America once again.