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Celebrating America’s Freedom
By Carol S. Wolf

The 4th of July, Independence Day, and the 14th of June, Flag Day, have always been special days in our family. My husband Dick was in the Navy and has been involved in Veteran Groups for years. I was interested in finding out the history about how these holidays came about so here is some fascinating history.

Independence Day has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941 but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution (1775-83).

Did you know that John Adams believed that July 2nd was the correct date to celebrate the birth of American independence and reportedly refused invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826- the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

In June, 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies then fighting in the revolutionary struggle weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Since then, July 4th has been celebrated as America’s Independence Day from Great Britain with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades, concerts, family picnics, and barbecues.

According to author Kenneth C. Davis, July 2nd is the real day of independence, but it is celebrated on the 4th because that is when Congress accepted Jefferson’s declaration. Thomas Jefferson also changed the wording of the Declaration of Independence from “the pursuit of property” to the “pursuit of happiness.” Only two men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, John Hancock and Charles Thompson.

I also wondered why we celebrate with fireworks. I discovered that the first celebration, which came one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed, began and ended with 13 fireworks being set off from the city’s commons. After that first celebration in Philadelphia, Boston held its own celebration with fireworks and the tradition grew from there.

My next question was about the origin of our flag and Flag Day. It was decided that the flag of the United States would be of thirteen stripes of alternating red and white with a union of thirteen stars of white in a blue field, representing the new constellation. This was the resolution adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. I also found out that Betsy Ross, who sewed the first American flag in 1776, did not get credit until almost 40 years after her death.

The flag of this design was first carried into battle on September 11, 1777, in the Battle of the Brandywine. The American flag was first saluted by foreign naval vessels on February 14, 1778, when the Ranger, bearing the Stars and Stripes and under the command of Captain Paul Jones, arrived in a French port. The flag first flew over a foreign territory in early 1778 at Nassau, Bahama Islands, where Americans captured a British fort.

The first claim of the official observance of Flag Day did not come until 1861 in Hartford, Conn. In the late 1800s, schools all over the United States held Flag Day programs to contribute to the Americanization of immigrant children and the observance caught on with many communities.

The most recognized celebration started on June 14, 1889. Professor George Bolch, principal of a free kindergarten for the port of New York City, had his school hold patriotic ceremonies to observe the anniversary of the Flag Day resolution. This attracted attention from the State Department of Education, which then arranged to have the day observed in all public schools from then on and also required that schools hold observances for Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Flag Day. In 1897, the governor of New York ordered the displaying of the flag over all public buildings in the state and observance considered to be the first official recognition of the anniversary of the adoption of the flag outside of schools.

Flag Day is a nationwide observance today but Pennsylvania is the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday. Bernard J. Cigrand, a school teacher in Waubeka, Wisconsin, reportedly spent years trying to get Congress to declare June 14th as a national holiday. Although his attempts failed, the day is widely observed. President Wilson in 1916 and President Coolidge in 1927 both issued proclamations asking for June 14th to be observed as National Flag Day but it wasn’t until August 3, 1949 that Congress approved the national observance and President Harry Truman signed it into law.

The colors were chosen intentionally: red for valor, white for purity, and blue for justice.

We were at a dinner party recently with a group we belong to, the Amherst Shrine Club. One of the members, Donald Davis, brought a quilt he was given as a veteran from the “Quilts of Valor” group. It was incredibly beautiful. He told his story of being in the U.S. Navy and being on the USS Otterstetter, Destroyer Escort out of Newport, RI and then the USS Corry, Destroyer out of Norfolk, Va.

I met with him later and he shared with me that he grew up in Galesburg, Il. He told me that after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Navy for four years with his best friend. He said, “We joined on the ‘Buddy Plan’ but my friend injured his shoulder and was rejected. I met Jerilyn my last year in the service; her brother was my friend on the USS Otterstetter. When I was discharged, I settled in Buffalo, got married in 1960, and I worked for Chevrolet. I joined the Ismailia Shrine and several veterans’ groups.”

I then asked him how he was selected to receive the quilt. He shared, “Every year, we have a reunion of the USS Cory, which had been involved in the Cuban crisis and Vietnam. We were having the reunion in Connecticut and the guy who was running it had been involved with Quilts of Valor which was a group that gave quilts to veterans. The group was started by a woman whose son had been injured in Iraq. She had a dream that a soldier was on the side of a bed with his head in his hands and demons of war around him. She saw this soldier wrapped with a quilt with loving arms around him. His complete demeanor changed. So when she woke up, she thought up Quilts of Valor. That’s how it began. She contacted the chaplain at the VA hospital and he authorized the project for Iraq and Afghanistan-injured soldiers in 2003. Then, in 2009, she was in Billingham, Washington where the traveling memorial wall is based. There were no Iraq or Afghanistan vets there so her husband suggested she expand it to other veterans. The Vietnam Vets were thrilled and told her that they had never been honored like this before. So from that time on, she decided all vets would receive the Quilt of Valor.”

Now there is a chapter in every state and as of 2016, the group has given almost 144,000 quilts away.

Don told me the guy who was running their USS Cory reunion made arrangements for all of them to receive a quilt, which was in September 2016. What an honor.

If you know of a successful program in your community or would like more information please let me know at caroldickwolf@cs.com.

Carol S. Wolf is married to her husband Dick for 52 years. She has 2 sons and 4 grandchildren. She is a writer, speaker, storyteller and leader of workshops and retreats. She is an Associate Spiritual Director at the St. Joseph Center for Spirituality and a member of the Network of Biblical Storytellers WNY.


 

 


Carol wrote this book as part of her two year Master's program in the Academy for Biblical Storytellers. It has just been published and is available for $10.00. Carol is an author, speaker and leader of workshops meditations and conference.
"This book give you an opportunity to experience how, when we become a part of the biblical story, we often find meaning for our own life. It is an incredible resource for confirmation, baptism, and intergenerational groups." Trracy Radosevic, Dean, Academy for Biblical Storytellers.
Anyone interested in buying a book can email me @caroldickwolf@cs.com. The book is $10.00 + $2.00 mailing.