Westminster lodge commemorates flag's symbolism

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Cadet Major Jonathan Houck knew that every fold as the U.S. flag is reduced to a triangle was symbolic, but Sunday, he learned specifically what each fold meant as he recited their meanings to the crowd gathered at the Westminster Elks Lodge.

The lodge celebrated its 51st observance of Flag Day Sunday with the assistance of the ROTC cadets from the southern Carroll County schools, including Houck, and the Carroll American Legion Post 31.

Though Flag Day is officially June 14 each year, it was celebrated early because of a scheduling conflict, according to Brian Walsh, exalted ruler of the Elks.

As a part of the ceremony, Houck recited each fold's meaning, from liberty and unity to independence and truth, while two of his fellow cadets methodically folded a flag.

"It seems really simple, but there's so much meaning to everything," said Cadet Major Hannah Sparks of the flag. Sparks said that she was born on Flag Day and knows some of its history because of her connection to the day.

Flag Day was established in 1916 to commemorate the adoption of the U.S. flag as the official flag of the country, according to the Library of Congress.

However, there have been several "official" flags since the 13 colonies broke away from England in 1775. Cadet First Lieutenant Justin Marlatt explained each historic flag as it was brought in for the ceremony by an ROTC cadet or a member of the American Legion.

The flag carried by colonial forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 was a field of white with a green pine tree, Marlatt said. After the ceremony, he said that he didn't know about this flag prior to preparing the Flag Day presentation.

In late 1775, according to Marlatt, the Continental Congress commissioned a group to consider designing a flag for all 13 colonies to share.

The flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes, sometimes known as the "Betsy Ross" flag, was commissioned in 1776 and remained the flag of the U.S. until 1795 when, after Vermont and Kentucky achieved statehood, two stars and two stripes were added, Marlatt said.

It was this flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 when Francis Scott Key famously penned the words to "The Star Spangled Banner," Marlatt said.

Marlatt also introduced the flag with 48 stars, which was in place for decades until Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the U.S., and the current flag.

Following a speech by guest Lt. Col. Lee Mitchell, senior army instructor for the ROTC, the American Legion performed a flag retirement ceremony where unserviceable flags were disposed of respectfully.

The American Legion recommends that flag retirement ceremonies occur on or near Flag Day to enhance respect and provide a service to the community, according to its website.

Rules for treatment of the flag were drafted in The U.S. Flag Code in 1923, according to the Smithsonian Institution website. Though the code is not enforceable as law — it was held to be a violation of free speech by the Supreme Court — it is maintained as a code of etiquette.

According to Houck, the ROTC for southern Carroll is responsible for raising and lowering the flags at Century, Liberty and South Carroll high schools throughout the academic year, following the Flag Code.

The flag must be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously, Houck said, and must be the first flag raised and the last flag lowered.

If it begins to rain, cadets must lower the flag because it is not a "storm flag" approved to fly in inclement weather, he said. The flag must also never touch the ground and must, if flown at night, be lit.