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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

The culture of the flag

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(6/2015) By the time this article is published and this issue of the Emmitsburg News-Journal is distributed, I will be in Bulgaria experiencing what Iím expecting will feel like an entirely different world. In preparation for this overseas training, I had to do a lot of at-home culture training online. During our first culture training activity we were given this prompt:

"When you go overseas, things can get chaotic and unpredictable. Find or make a video about something that is important to you. Something that will help you stay grounded to your own culture. Post/upload/link that video here so we can all watch it. Tell us how the subject of the video will help you stay connected to your own culture. Also predict how people from your target nation would interpret your words/action if you are/were in your video. Would what keeps you grounded confuse them, make them smile...?"

Before I looked at the given example, I started to search the Internet and think about what reminds me of home. I came up with a few ideas, from local restaurants to different foods, but nothing reminded me of my culture as an American as much as it did a Pennsylvania resident or something even less significant. My next move was to view the example answer that was provided to us, a link to a YouTube video showing a group of soldiers raising the American flag. It would be really cool to say I was immediately sold; of course the flag is the answer! But I wasnít. I was skeptical because shouldnít a person or an experience be more of a reminder of our American culture than a flag? After all, we are the land of the free, the country of experience and new beginnings and more. We are the original melting pot, the home of expansion, and all of our individual experiences are vastly different. How can a flag encompass all of that?

I feel like I end up saying this in the majority of my articles, but I hope this isnít taken the wrong way. I know how symbolic our flag is. I have seen it flown with pride at school every day of my life; I have seen it flown at half-staff after a tragedy; I have seen it given to the wife of a deceased service member; I have looked at it as I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for a large majority of my life; I have saluted it in uniform as the National Anthem played before a football game; I have seen it plastered all over houses and yards for Memorial Day and especially around the 4th of July; I have held it as a member of the color guard as a crowded gymnasium stands before a basketball game. Once I started to think about it, the flag is reminiscent of most experiences Iíve had. It isnít just a piece of cloth with three colors and shapes; as a country, we have turned it into a true symbol of the American experience.

Most of us learned the story of Betsy Ross in elementary school and most of us remember the story of our flag that way. Betsy Ross finished the flag before July of 1776, but it wasnít adopted as the National Flag until June 14, 1777; herein lies the origins of the Flag Day that we will be celebrating in a few short weeks. The flag was adopted during a time characterized by a search for national pride and unity. The Continental Congress determined that the flag should be thirteen stripes with thirteen white stars against a blue background, and so it began this way.

By looking at our flagís beginnings, we can see how far weíve come and simultaneously see how closely we remain to the original vision. We still fly the same flag; all that is different is the number of stars. The flag has truly fulfilled its original purpose Ė to provide a sense of unity. The best example of this unity that I have experienced comes from being a member of the ROTC Color Guard at the Mount. I first participated in the Color Guard this past winter at a menís basketball game where I was tasked with carrying the American flag.

We are a team of four and we carry two rifles, the Maryland Flag, and the American Flag. We step onto the court at 6:50pm for a 7:00pm game and wait until the teams finish warmups and the buzzer goes off as the scoreboard clock reaches 0:00. Both teams line up facing center court and the entire gymnasium goes silent as all attention is turned to the color guard team and the flags waiting in the corner. This sounds incredibly dramatic, I realize this, but it truly happens precisely that way. It is a learned practice, and as a country that puts as much emphasis on sporting events as we do, no one needs to be told to turn to the flag as the teams line up. The silence is almost never tested, proven through the sound of our shoes on the gym floor as we walk to center court. Itís almost like when you are trying to sneak downstairs to get a midnight snack but the stairs are suddenly creaky in places they never have been before. Our footsteps are the only sound in the gym until we turn and the National Anthem begins to play.

At this time the rifles are presented and the Maryland flag is lowered, but the American Flag remains upright as some remove their hats, some put their hands over their hearts, and some just stand still, but everyone looks upon the flag. When the Anthem ends and we exit the gym, the sound resumes and the announcers prepare for the starting lineups, but for a few minutes there is a true sense of unity surrounding the flag. This small example of an NEC basketball game is repeated every day in much larger settings, and always this same sense of unity occurs for a few short minutes.

In this I believe we can all see how the original purpose of the flag has been fulfilled, and here we finally come full circle and I return to the original prompt, now convinced that the American flag is the perfect reminder of our culture as Americans. In its 13 stripes and 50 stars there is a story for everyone. We donít all have the same story, but the same flag represents us all, and that is what allows the flag to truly represent our nation in all of our differences and similarities. So I think that even across the ocean and worlds away, the image of the American flag could keep anyone grounded to this culture, and suddenly Flag Day seems to hold a lot more importance than I ever realized.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary