Flag Day: A History of the Stars and Stripes

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

June 14th is Flag Day in America! The U.S. flag dates back to colonial times and has taken many forms over the past few centuries. Here’s a little flag history:

The flag was originally used as a rallying point for the troops of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. However, it had a different look and name – the Grand Union Flag.

The Grand Union Flag. Photo from the National Park Service

The Grand Union Flag. Photo from the National Park Service

The Grand Union Flag had 13 red and white stripes to represent the 13 colonies. In the left corner, it had the red cross of St. George of England, along with the white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland. It was the unofficial national flag on July 4, 1776 — Independence Day — and remained as such until June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution approving the new U.S. flag.

The 13 red and white stripes remained on that one, but the crosses were removed and replaced with 13 white stars in a blue field to “represent a new constellation.” The resolution didn’t say how the stars should be arranged, though, so there were several variations — some flags had stars scattered on the blue field without any specific design, while others arranged them in rows or a circle, like the popular Betsy Ross Flag.

The flag commonly known as the Betsy Ross Flag. Photo from the National Park Service

The flag commonly known as the Betsy Ross Flag. Photo from the National Park Service

The flag was expanded in 1794 to include 15 stars and 15 stripes when Kentucky and Vermont entered the Union. That version, known as the Garrison flag, was official from 1795 to 1818, including during the War of 1812.

The Garrison Flag. Photo from the National Park Service

The Garrison Flag. Photo from the National Park Service

During the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814, Francis Scott Key saw the Garrison flag flying over Fort McHenry after a full day and night of bombardment by the British. He was so inspired by it and the country’s resilience that he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Leaders eventually resolved to return to the 13 stripes to symbolize the original colonies. Stars would then be added when new states were admitted to the Union. That’s how we got to the flag we have today.

American flags are displayed during the National Flag Day ceremony June 13, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank

American flags are displayed during the National Flag Day ceremony June 13, 2013, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank

The first unofficial national Flag Day observance happened June 14, 1877, the centennial of the flag resolution.

Flag Day became so popular that it was officially established by President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916; however, it wasn’t until Aug. 3, 1949, that President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress to permanently designate June 14 as National Flag Day.

Former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier Paul McGowan drops into the opening ceremonies at the Joint Service Open House on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., May 17, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by Fred W. Baker III

Former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier Paul McGowan drops into the opening ceremonies at the Joint Service Open House on Andrews Air Force Base, Md., May 17, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by Fred W. Baker III

The American flag has flown all over the world, from Iwo Jima and Vietnam to Grenada, Kuwait, Kabul and Baghdad.

In addition to representing our fighting spirit and the American way, the flag also represents those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  It is used to cover the caskets of the fallen as they come home from war, and it represents the oath that Americans swear to uphold the Constitution.

A soldier with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” keeps a constant vigil over the casket of Army Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last U.S. World War I veteran, as he laid in repose before his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. DoD photo by Donna Miles

A soldier with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” keeps a constant vigil over the casket of Army Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last U.S. World War I veteran, as he laid in repose before his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. DoD photo by Donna Miles

On this Flag Day, remember that oath and those who have died for the freedom that the U.S. flag represents. Be sure to fly your flag proudly!

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  • من اجل علم امريكا كلشي نعمل

  • انا استشهد من امريكا اتنجاح احمد الله اليوم انا في تمريكا ديفعي امريك ا بدمي

  • Long may she wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    #GodBlessAmerica