I’ve been to the moon. I’ve been burned. But more often I’m honored. I’m your American flag.
With 13 stars for colonies clamoring for freedom, I was first flown at Fort Stanwix in New York in 1777 — and then carried into battle for the first time at Brandywine in Pennsylvania. By war’s end, I was saluted as the emblem of a sovereign nation, new and free. I’m your American flag.
But challenges lay ahead. With 15 stars and 15 stripes, I survived shock and shell at Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814. With the aid of rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, I was spied from afar at dawn’s early light by a patriot poet. I was then celebrated in sight and song by a fledgling nation. I’m your American flag.
A half century later and with 33 stars and 13 stripes, I was saddened to see our nation divided. Our brothers’ blood was spilt in battle north and south. But by war’s end, Lincoln’s iconic words at Gettysburg prevailed — a unique nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. But that pledge was yet to be fully fulfilled.
I survived mustard gas and ghastly death in European trenches in World War I and, 48 stars strong, was hoisted by six soldiers on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima in World War II. I’m proud to be your American flag.
I was carried into battle over frozen turf in Korea, waved more proudly on flagpoles here at home with civil rights and women’s rights rising, and was saluted by a little boy as the horse-drawn caisson with his father’s casket passed by on the streets of our nation’s capital. It was the best of times and the worst of times, but through it all, I was your American flag.
I lost sons and daughters in the rice paddies and hellish jungles of Vietnam, saw some succumb to Agent Orange, and witnessed renewed conflict about taking me, your American flag, to faraway lands like Iraq and Afghanistan. When and where warfare should be waged is an issue still troubling us today.
But most of all I represent the American spirit, the indomitable demand and yearning for freedom, excellence and opportunity. I am not the flag of a ruling regime or royal family. I am the American flag, representing rights emanating from a higher and transcendent authority honored on our coinage.
Look up to me as you salute or stand at attention. Pledge yourself to fulfill lofty goals symbolized by my heavenly sky-blue field for 50 stars. With red for valor and zeal and white for hope and purity, look up and salute with pride what the patriot poet hailed as a worthy star-spangled banner. May it forever wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
James F. Burns is a retired professor at the University of Florida.