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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Storied history from an American flag

In 1943 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt if he wouldn't mind stopping the presidential motorcade at 154 W. Patrick St. in Frederick, Md. The two men were en route to the federal government retreat previously known as Hi-Catoctin — and renamed USS Shangri La by Roosevelt, and later Camp David by President Dwight D. Eisenhower — for a meeting to discuss the prosecution of the war. It would be the first summit at the hideaway.

As the car stopped in front of a clapboard home dating back to the American Revolution, Churchill told Roosevelt that the house once belonged to Barbara Fritchie. He explained that in 1862, during Stonewall Jackson's Maryland campaign, she waved Old Glory in front of the approaching rebels. Jackson was impressed by her fervor. Subsequently he issued an order allowing the 95-year-old Fritchie to wave the U.S. flag.

Churchill then recited a few lines from John Greenleaf Whittier's poem depicting the "folklore" that transpired between Jackson and Fritchie.

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head but spare your country's flag," she said.¿A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,¿over the face of the leader came;¿The nobler nature within him stirred to life at that woman's deed and word;¿"Who touches a hair of yon gray head¿Dies like a dog! March on!" he said!

Can you imagine Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt in front of Barbara Fritchie's home discussing the folklore of the American flag?

As Memorial Day approaches you'll see many American flags throughout La Cañada. The flag, the iconic symbol of the American people, defines our purpose as a nation. The flag floats in majestic silence but regardless it speaks to us of our historical national significance. It chronicles the men and women who went before and carved their deeds upon it.

Recently I spoke with a buddy of mine, John Love, a resident of La Cañada. Perhaps you know him! He collects American historic flags and proudly displays them on Memorial Day. His collection includes the Betsy Ross flag, the Continental flag flown at the battle of Bunker Hill, the Bennington Flag associated with Nathan Hale whose words, "I regret I have only one life to give for my country." It is a salient reminder of the significance of Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, John will fly the First Navy Jack in honor of his father, John Thomas Love, who made 12 Atlantic crossings with the Navy during World War I. The "Jack" has a rattlesnake superimposed on a bed of 13 stripes with the inscription, "Don't Tread On Me."

In homage to George Washington, John will also display the Union flag hoisted at the General's Headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. on Jan. 2, 1776.

"The American flag is a symbol of our need for myth. I not only see the flag, but the nation itself. Regardless of the insignia, the flag represents the history of our American journey," Love said. "It memorializes the men and women who died and toiled for the principles the flag represents. The flags keep history alive. I see myself as a conservator of history."

John shared an interesting story about the quixotic nature of the flag. From a hotel room in Baltimore, he viewed Fort McHenry and the Great Garrison flag flying above a star shaped fort that once guarded Baltimore Harbor. In 1812, after 24 hours of British cannon and rockets, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and poet, saw the miraculous. The Great Garrison flag remained. Key then penned some lines that became our national anthem.

After the smoke cleared at Fort McHenry, four Americans were dead, including an African American soldier and a woman, both defenders manning the heavy guns of the fort.

On Monday, Memorial Day, come to Memorial Park at 9 a.m. and honor the soldiers who died at Fort McHenry and the countless numbers who lay in gardens of stone.

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JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at doctorjoe@ymail.com. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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