Robert Ehlert: Let’s hear it for Flag Day

I can make a pretty good argument that the time between Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July is the high season for the average citizen to display the flag.

Though there are official dates throughout the year and some people fly the Stars and Stripes every day, I’m thinking about a day that bisects Decoration Day and Independence Day: Flag Day.

Technically, we are in Flag Week, the culmination of which is Flag Day on Sunday. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s designation of June 14 as Flag Day. A famous Wilson quote: “The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history.”

A part of me wonders whether Flag Day is the Rodney Dangerfield of our display days on the calendar, because it deserves more respect. This is not to say that a faithful core of citizens does not regularly observe it, because they do. What concerns me is that Flag Day is not surrounded with the cultural lift that Memorial Day and the Fourth of July enjoy.

After all of the worthy attention our flag gets on Memorial Day, there’s a lot of anticipation for the Fourth of July; well, Flag Day could use some PR love.

It is easy to say it is just about the flag. But there is lots of history, some of it very visual. If you get a minute, Google U.S. flag history under “images.” Looking at the various entries it is easy to trace the design evolution of our flag. Learn more about Flag Day history by visiting the Library of Congress website at loc.gov and type “Flag Day” in the search field.

If you’d like to attend a Flag Day event, the Elks Lodges in Nampa and Boise do a great job telling the flag’s story. One opportunity is 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Eastside Park in Nampa, 430 21st Ave. South. On Sunday the Boise Elks offer a program at 6:30 p.m. at the Veterans Hospital, 320 Collins Road, Boise.

“Come on by,” says Lyle Gessford, the Idaho State Elks Association Veterans Chairman, who did two tours in Vietnam. “The big thing is, every time you see the flag, you should remember the sacrifice of the people in uniform.”

My dad was a World War II veteran and we were a flag-waving household. Sometimes it takes awhile when you get out on your own to incorporate that habit into your life. The ritual of displaying the flag became a habit for a lot more of us after 9/11.

Living in Colorado Springs at the time, I remember seeing flags bloom like red, white and blue flowers on every house adjacent to the front doors. In the days and weeks following the attack, I saw people running down the streets waving flags. I saw them growing out of make-shift pole mounts in pickup truck beds parading all over town.

Literally every house on every street displayed the flag. Granted, this was Colorado Springs, home to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base (headquarters for NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command), Fort Carson Army Base and probably some other facilities I have forgotten by now.

I delight when I hike in the Boise Foothills and see the 30-by-50-foot Old Glory flying above the Simplot mansion.

The late Johnny Cash often did a performance — unaccompanied by music — called “Ragged Old Flag,” which, with no disrespect, chronicles our flag through the ages: “And she’s getting threadbare and she’s wearing thin; But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in; ’Cause she’s been through the fire before; And I believe she can take a whole lot more.”

In tough times we rely on icons and symbols of our freedom, such as our flag.

Long may she wave.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.