Bel Air residents who were willing to get up early on a Saturday morning and come out to Shamrock Park were treated to a morning of music, poetry and patriotic speeches that were part of the town's annual Flag Day celebration.
The event started off with the presentation of the colors and a rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" by the Bel Air High School Band, as well as an opening prayer.
"They are fantastic," County Councilman Jim McMahan, who served as the event's emcee, said of the high school band.
Town officials estimated about 200 people, including band and Bel Air High School Counterpoints chorus members, attended Saturday's event. The band and chorus performed songs at different times of the event.
The event traditionally begins at 8 a.m. in order to avoid the hotter part of the day.
McMahan introduced Sam Fielder Jr. of Jarrettsville, a Korean War veteran and published poet, to read his poem "Our Flag."
Fielder's poem is about a young television reporter who meets a veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Fielder describes the veteran in his poem as a "stately-looking gentleman" who has "spent a lifetime fighting for the red, white and blue."
The veteran tells the young reporter that the blue in the American flag symbolizes "the ache in a mother's heart" as she waits for her son to return from war; the white symbolizes "the young, the pure at heart," who answered the call to service, and the red is "stitched from each patriot true" who spilled blood.
"That grand lady's known over this world as the real Miss Liberty," Fielder stated in his poem.
McMahan took time to praise Fielder, who served in the Marines in Korea, for his work as a poet.
"He has written a plethora of poems," McMahan said. "I hope we can some day make him the poet laureate of Harford County; nobody deserves it more."
McMahan also thanked the youth members of the band and chorus for coming out, especially early on a Saturday, and Bel Air officials and staff members for putting the event together.
McMahan then introduced the keynote speaker, retired Maryland Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Carole Briscoe.
"It is with much pride that this old colonel introduces Brig. Gen. Carole Briscoe as our keynote speaker for today," said McMahan, who is a veteran of the Army and the Maryland Defense Force.
Briscoe recently retired after decades with the National Guard. She began her career in 1978 with the 136th Combat Support Hospital.
She was the first woman to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general, or a one-star general, in the Maryland National Guard in 2001, according to the Prince George's County Sentinel newspaper. She is also a nurse in civilian life.
Flag Day was first observed on June 14, 1885, which is also the Army's birthday, Briscoe told the audience.
June 14 is the official Flag Day holiday, but the Town of Bel Air typically holds its ceremony in early June because the youth band and chorus members are still in school.
Briscoe talked about the significance of each part of the flag, including the 13 red and white stripes, which symbolize the original 13 colonies, the stars that symbolize each state, the blue square that stands for the union.
She said the color white means "purity;" red stands for "valor," and blue stands for "vigilance, perseverance and justice."
"I am proud of what it represents, and I know that our country is safe and free," she said.
McMahan touched on Friday's observance of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion to liberate Europe during World War II, and he wondered if today's generation knows of the sacrifice the Allied soldiers made on the beaches of Normandy.
"Let us never forget those who laid down their lives so we can live in peace, but that peace is still threatened today, and young people are answering the call," he said.
Spectators Stacy Bowen and Lisa Roberts, both of Bel Air, came to watch their respective children, Jake and Alissa, perform in the band.
Bowen also brought her 4-year-old son Evan, and she noted the event had been a learning experience for him regarding the American flag.
"He asked a lot of questions, which was good," she said.
Bowen and Roberts said they hoped more people could come to future Flag Day events, and suggested it could be promoted by more sources. The event has been promoted through the town government and The Aegis.
Bowen, who operates a business on Main Street, suggested promoting Flag Day through the Bel Air Downtown Alliance.
"There's so many wonderful things in Bel Air," she said. "I've lived here my whole life, and it's such a wonderful small town."
Roberts suggested promoting the event though the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. She is a Girl Scout coordinator.
"Girl Scouts is very patriotic, which I love," she said. "I think it would have been a wonderful Girl Scout event."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun