The Stars and Stripes and Flag Day

Today’s date marks a notable confluence of coincidentally related events in history. To begin, it was on this day in 1777 that the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution, which held “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

With the entrance of new states into the Republic after independence, new stripes and stars were added until 1818, when Congress enacted a law stipulating the 13 original stripes be restored and that only stars be added to represent new states. Whilst scholars still disagree, legend holds that Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross designed the original canton for the Stars and Stripes at the request of General George Washington, and tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June 1777 by the Continental Army at the Middlebrook encampment.

On June 14, 1877, the first Flag Day observance was held on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes. Then, on this day in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. Congress followed up in 1949 by enacting a statute that officially recognized Flag Day, a statute President Harry S. Truman happily signed into law on Aug. 3 of that year. Though not an official federal holiday, the law leaves it to the president’s discretion to proclaim its observance, and every president since Wilson has done so.

Finally, today’s 50-star flag was ordered by the then president Eisenhower on August 21, 1959, upon the admittance of Alaska and Hawaii into the Union, and officially adopted in July 1960. It is the longest-used version of our flag, in continuous use for over 57 years.

Moving across the pond, also on this very day in 1940, stunned Parisians awoke to the sound of a German-accented voice announcing via loudspeakers that a curfew was being imposed for 8 p.m. that evening, as Hitler’s troops would be marching in to occupy Paris. By the end of the afternoon, the colors in this story were that of Germany, as the conquering Nazis hung a swastika flag at the Arc de Triomphe, and organized military parades with marching bands on the Champs Élysées and Avenue Foch, principally for the benefit of the German army photographers and newsreel cameramen.

Less than 50 months later, a decidedly different ceremony marked the hoisting of both the French Tricolor and our Stars and Stripes above the Eiffel Tower, whilst thousands of Parisians wept with joy, crying out “merci merci la France est libre!” Had Hitler’s team managed to develop atomic weapons ahead of the U.S., an entirely different outcome would have been far more likely.

And lastly on today’s date, in 1954 over 12 million Americans “die” in a mock nuclear attack, as the United States conducts its first nationwide civil defense drill. 54 cities in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, and Hawaii, as well as border towns in Canada participated in the exercise, the premise of which was massive Soviet nuclear assault from both aircraft and submarines.

At 10 a.m. that day, alarms were sounded in selected cities, at which time all citizens were ordered to clear off the streets, seek shelter, and prepare for the onslaught. Each citizen was supposed to know where the closest fallout shelter was located; these included the basements of government buildings and schools, underground subway tunnels, and private shelters. Even President Eisenhower took part in the show, heading to an underground bunker in Washington, D.C. The entire drill lasted only about 10 minutes, at which time an all-clear signal was broadcast and life returned to normal.

Civil Defense Administration officials estimated that New York City would suffer the most in such an attack, losing over 2 million people. Other cities, including Washington, would also endure massive loss of life, and all told, it was expected that over 12 million Americans would die in an attack.

Notwithstanding significant arms reductions since the Cold War’s end, the U.S., Russian Federation, China and six other countries, including North Korea and Israel, maintain nuclear stockpiles, and Putin’s war planners have made considerable headway in designing a first-strike land-and-sea attack intended to cripple the US Nuclear Triad.

And here our story of high-spirits and hydrogen endeth.