Staunton native and 28th president of the United States Woodrow Wilson knew the importance of the United States flag.
He knew the dignity with which it had been borne into battle and the aura of solidity with which it had flown over peacetime landscapes; he knew its power to inspire and its ability to make strong men weep. He knew its value — not only to Americans, but to the world, as well — as the highest, best symbol of what men can achieve when driven by convictions of liberty and justice for all.
“I know of nothing more difficult than to render an adequate tribute to the emblem of our nation,” Wilson said. “For those of us who have shared that nation’s life and felt the beat of its pulse, it must be considered a matter of impossibility to express the great things which that emblem embodies.”
Wilson decided a day should be set aside for official remembrance of the flag. What better day, he thought, than June 14, the day in 1777 when Congress adopted the “Stars and Stripes” as the upstart nation’s new banner?
In a proclamation printed in the New York Times on May 31, 1916, Wilson wrote:
“It…seemed fitting to me that I should call your attention to the approach of the anniversary of the day upon which the flag of the United States was adopted by Congress as the emblem of the Union, and to suggest to you that it should, this year and in the years to come, be given special significance as a day of renewal and reminder, a day upon which we should direct our minds with a special desire of renewal to thoughts of the ideals and principles of which we have sought to make our government the embodiment.”
Although Flag Day was embraced by the nation, it was not and never has been a legal holiday. Rather, it was intended by Wilson to be a day for “turning away from the things that touch us personally and absorb our interest in the hours of daily work.”
He said it was meant to be a day in which we remind ourselves of things greater than we are, and “of those principles by which we believe our hearts to be elevated.”
For many years Americans did just that. Every June 14, main streets from coast to coast were a-flutter with flags; marching bands regaled audiences with everything from “The Stars and Stripes Forever” to “Dixie;” legislators made speeches in town squares. America took its flag seriously, and wanted the world to know it.
Today, however, the speeches and parades are largely gone. If a main thoroughfare is lined with flags, many people simply note that it’s too early for the Fourth of July and wonder what the occasion is. And today’s legislator – even more than the politician of Wilson’s day – is frequently viewed with such distrust that the eloquent words of a patriotic speech would go unheeded, or shouted down.
Does that mean there is no glory, honor or pride left to be gained from contemplating the American flag? Wilson left it up to us to decide:
“This flag which we honor and under which we serve is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It had no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It float in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or in war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us – speaks to us of the past, of the men and women who went before us and of the records they wrote upon it.”
Staunton has chosen not to forget the flag.
On Saturday, June 10, the Augusta Parish, Beverley Manor and Colonel Thomas Hughart chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution are sponsoring a Flag Day celebration at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., there will be guided tours of the Manse and self-guided tours of the museum, kid’s activities and a main program in which the flag will be honored.
In that program, which begins at 1 p.m., VFW Post 2216 will present the colors. Wilson’s Flag Day proclamation will be read and a clarinet quartet from the Stonewall Brigade Band will provide music. Keynote speaker John Avoli, executive director of the Museum of American Frontier Culture, will be joined by Staunton Mayor Carolyn Dull, Wilson library president and CEO Robin von Seldeneck and key members of the three DAR chapters.