I had the pleasure on Sunday of singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a celebration of Flag Day held by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in Fort Worth, Texas. I’ve done this once before and not only got to express my patriotism by singing the national anthem –- it seems I love it more every year –- but also learned a lot of history about the flag (and the Elks) from the presentation…
Such as: The significance of the American flag is that it is emblematic of the crowning virtue, charity; of justice for all; of brotherly love; and of fidelity. These are the “cardinal principles” of the Elks. “By them,” the Elks say, “we teach love of country and of our countrymen and loyalty to our American way of life. To be an Elk is to be an American citizen who lives for his country and is ready to die for it.”
In his Flag Day prayer, the Chaplain asked God to bless our flag and entreats, “Through the years to come, may this flag wave as the banner of liberty, freedom and enlightenment. May this service bring to each of us a sense of loyalty to our country and enable us to be better patriots, truer citizens, and more loyal Americans, to Thy glory and to the honor of this great nation.”
I can’t tell you how refreshing this ceremony was after sitting through the sickening and thoroughly UN-American January 6 hearing last Thursday. There was not a hint of politics in this Flag Day ceremony, even though its emphasis on God and patriotism leaves little doubt as to which way its members lean politically. These are people who care deeply about devotion and duty, in service not to themselves but to higher principles. Yes, this mindset still exists.
And these were the nicest people. It’s easy to see that this isn’t just talk --- they really live it.
Still, there was one thing that left me a little sad. In that big room full of round banquet tables, all looking lovely with white tablecloths and flag centerpieces, most of the tables were empty. In fact, before they were about to start, I even asked the officials on the dais if they’d thought about “holding the curtain” for a few minutes in case more showed up. They said no, they’d go ahead as planned.
After it was over, one of them explained to me that, as he put it, “The average age in this group is 72.” Covid, of course, had caused some to avoid crowds in the past couple of years, and I'm not sure they even had it in 2020. But also, their ranks have naturally thinned over time. It seemed to me that this tradition must have skipped a couple of generations, with seniors represented, along with seniors of the high school variety –- the ones in ROTC –- but very few folks in between.
So I have a suggestion. If you have a calendar for next year, find the Sunday just before June 14 and go ahead and mark it “Flag Day Celebration.” Then go to the website for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, where you can read more about them and also enter your zip code to find the Elks lodge closest to you.
I can’t think of a better, more inspiring way to celebrate Flag Day than to take your whole family –- all the generations –- to this event, meet some nice people, eat a big stuffed baked potato and learn a lot about the history of the American flag and its meaning, or at least what it’s supposed to mean.
As for that, I’ll leave you with something President Wilson said about that: “This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and shape of this nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours.”
In other words, we define it. That’s why it’s up to us to make sure the flag continues to stand for the best in ourselves and in our country.
Here’s more about Flag Day and some suggestions for how to celebrate it today.