By Karen Zautyk
The announcement was short and to the point: “In commemoration of Flag Day, the Nutley Department of Public Affairs will be conducting a brief flag retirement ceremony on Friday, June 14th, 4 p.m., at the Department of Public Affairs Building, 149 Chestnut St. Representatives from the Girl Scouts of America will be participating in this ceremony.”
It was also a much-appreciated reminder. Every year, your correspondent thinks, “I must remember Flag Day.” And then I forget.
Flag Day, alas, is one of those American observances that has nearly fallen by the wayside. It appears to no longer be recognized nationally in any special way. But, luckily, small towns across the U.S., and the patriots who dwell therein, are keeping it alive.
It marks the anniversary of the day, June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the new country. Coincidentally, the same day also marks the official birthday of the U.S. Army, on June 14, 1775.
Trying to determine when Flag Day itself, the anniversary observance, came into being is a bit daunting, with some apparently conflicting information. (Or maybe my lack of research skills is to blame.)
In any case, reportedly, the first commemoration took place June 14, 1861, in Hartford, Conn., at the suggestion of a resident of that city, named George Morris. Or maybe Jonathan Morris.
But it wasn’t until 1916, with World War I raging in Europe, that Flag Day was made official, via proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson. It was then made legislatively official in 1949 when President Harry S Truman signed the Act of Congress establishing June 14 as the date.
For an exceedingly readable history of Flag Day, I direct you to a 2011 article by Adam Goodheart published in a New York Times blog. Just Google: Unhappy Flag Day. Which is the headline on the piece. It recounts the ups and downs of the “holiday.”
Goodheart writes: “It was destined, eventually, to become the runty stepchild among American national holidays. One hundred and fifty years after its original creation, no one ever hosts a Flag Day cookout or sends a Flag Day greeting card. Nobody gets to take a long weekend away from the office. Even the most customer-hungry car dealers don’t advertise Flag Day sales.
“And today, exactly 150 years [this was from 2011, remember] after it was first celebrated, almost no one seems to have noticed the anniversary.”
But Nutley notices, this year and in past years.
We attended the brief, but solemn and moving, ceremony last Friday afternoon. Presiding was Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers, with Commissioner for a Day, 9-year-old Brian Conte, a third-grader at Yantacaw School.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation, members of Girl Scout Troop 20502 performed the exacting flag-folding ceremony one sees most often at veterans’ funerals.
This flag, about to be officially “retired,” was representative of some 250 American flags dropped off at the Public Affairs offices during the year by Nutleyites — flags that were faded or tattered or torn.
American flags no longer suitable for display are not to be tossed in the trash.
Rogers explained that all 250 from Nutley would be delivered to a crematorium where they will be burned, That is the only acceptable form of disposal for the Stars and Stripes.
In his remarks at the ceremony, Rogers noted that June 14 “is an important day for every American” but “unfortunately, across the country we have seen some of these important days disappearing.”
Not in Nutley. Of the ceremony, Rogers said, “We do it for the younger generation.”
On Flag Day, honoring the flag, and the Americans who have served and are serving under Old Glory, “is a reminder that freedom cost a lot” and is a tribute “to those who paid the price, those who came before us,” the commissioner said.