At least 100 members of the Bel Air community came out early Saturday morning to Shamrock Park for the Town of Bel Air's annual Flag Day Ceremony.
Spectators, who mostly sat under the park's large shade trees as the ceremony took place in the amphitheater, enjoyed cool breezes during the 8 a.m. ceremony, held before temperatures climbed into the high 80s later Saturday.
"Thank you so much for coming and paying the respect to our nation's colors," Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan, who represents the Bel Air area and served as master of ceremonies, said.
Flag Day takes place around the nation on June 14, but McMahan said Bel Air traditionally holds its ceremony in early June before school lets out to allow local students to perform, and Saturday was no exception, as members of the Bel Air High School Band and the school Chorus performed a variety of patriotic songs.
"I certainly appreciate the students that have come today to sing for us, and to play," McMahan told the audience.
McMahan himself served in the Army and the Maryland Defense Force, a state-run military unit under the control of Maryland's adjutant general, who also oversees the state's Army National Guard, Air National Guard and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
He also oversaw the raising of the colors to open Saturday's ceremony; the presentation and raising of the colors was carried out by members of American Legion Post 39, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 30 and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 588, all of Bel Air.
The Rev. Harold Hubble, the chaplain for the Bel Air Police Department, Harford County Sheriff's Office and the county's Emergency Operations Center, delivered the opening prayer.
Army Col. Gregory R. McClinton, garrison commander at Aberdeen Proving Ground, delivered the morning's keynote address.
McClinton, a native of Harrisburg, Pa. and a graduate of Towson University, has served in the Army since 1987, and became commander of the APG garrison last June.
"I know I'm in the right place to honor the American flag when I'm in Bel Air," he said.
McClinton said "the Bel Air community has worked closely with our Army, showing support and appreciation for the soldiers, civilians, family members and to the missions that are carried out at the Proving Ground and Edgewood (Chemical Biological Center) on a daily basis."
The colonel talked about growing up in Harrisburg, saying he "literally lived a stone's throw" from Pennsylvania's capitol building, and making regular field trips with his classmates to the capitol, where he could see the flags of Pennsylvania, other states and the nation.
"These trips and the discussions associated with them regarding the meaning of the flag had a lasting impact," he said.
McClinton called the American flag "our symbol of strength and unity," and cited a quote from American author George William Curtis, who said "A man's country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers and woods, but it is a principle, and patriotism is loyalty to that principle."
"I believe that our flag, the American flag, the great stars and stripes that represents this great nation, is the symbol that represents that principle," McClinton explained.
McClinton said he has served throughout the United States and the world, and seen the American flag "displayed with pride in any manner of setting."
He said in some areas, flying the flag has brought out "an envious gaze and other times that display of the flag resulted in anger, as many of our veterans can probably attest."
McClinton said military officials have ordered the flag not to be flown in some cases, in deference to the host nation.
"It is in these moments that you realize, though that you can no longer fly the flag, you can represent it in your behavior, in your interaction with your host, in the hope to instill in them an appreciation for why we hold its symbolism near to our hearts, why it is not a hollow symbol," he said.
In his closing remarks, McMahan noted any design of the American flag authorized by the U.S. Congress, since the flag was created in 1777, can be flown.
He said a flag authorized by Congress during the era of the War of 1812 flies in front of the county's administrative offices at 220 S. Main St. in Bel Air.
"I ask you to keep this symbol of our freedom waving; keep our veterans and all our military currently serving in your prayers," McMahan said. "Godspeed and we will see you again next year."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun