The flag is the symbol of the country, the “emblem of the land I love,” in songwriter George M. Cohan’s words, and often a flash point for controversy.
Flag Day has been observed unofficially for more than a century, but it wasn’t until 1949 that Flag Day was designated by law.
In the days leading up to this Flag Day, we asked a number of lawmakers and other members of the Capitol Hill community what Old Glory means to them. Here are their answers:
Molly Cain,assistant superintendent of the House Press Gallery “Each flutter of the United States flag is a heartbeat, a moment and an experience. It’s standing up for the national anthem. It’s singing, ‘God Bless the USA’ in the school choir. It’s the excitement of fireworks. It’s watching the president take the Oath of Office on television. It’s eating barbecue on the Fourth of July. It’s seeing the ball drop in New York City. It’s shaking the hand of a member of the military. And it’s the memories of all Americans on that day in September of 2011.”
Drew Cannon, assistant superintendent of the House Press Gallery
“The American flag is the image of our Constitution. It has survived over two centuries of war and peace not because of luck or good fortune, but because each successive generation was committed to the principles of ’76.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) “The love and appreciation for the flag is not a voluntary impulse. It is something that grows on us as opposed to being taught to us, and I think it grows on us when we see the great things that this nation does that no other nation will do, and I can think of moments when the flag waving in the wind almost brought tears to my eyes. … I was in Arrowhead Stadium on the Sunday after 9/11 … I did the prayer on the field before the game opened, and I was sitting up in the stands with my wife and saw this firefighter running up the steps. … You can’t tell people, ‘You must have reverence for the flag, read this book” … it’s something that is involuntary.”
Rep. Bill Flores(R-Texas) “Every time I see the American flag, I think of the devoted sacrifice and unconditional bravery demonstrated by our nation’s military and veterans. Our flag is an enduring symbol whose purpose is to remind us not only of heroes of past generations, but also of those continuing the fight for our freedom. I hold this sacred symbol of America very close to my heart.”
Terrance Gainer,Senate Sergeant-at-Arms “Certain sounds and sights stir needed emotions for me. The flap and snap of our American flag in a strong breeze with the visual of its rolling fabric and striking colors bright against a bright morning sky sharpen a profound sense of duty, honor and country in me. The great American symbol of our flag flying is at the same time calming, offering a bit of peace, continuity and purpose. The folded flag solemnly passed with gratitude to the survivor of a silenced sentinel breaks my aching heart.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) “To me, the flag represents a sense of place and the values I learned growing up. As a first-generation American, I learned firsthand the value of freedom and that effort pays off in this country. My father emigrated from Mexico. I grew up in a bilingual neighborhood. We spoke Spanish first. My father always told me the flag represents all of us. He had faith in the fairness of his new home, and he was right. Our flag, like our country, belongs to us all. Regardless of money, race, gender, country of origin, age — the flag represents the entire nation, our love for this country and the paths we each took to get here. It represents the essence of being American.”
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton(D-D.C.) “Flags, like all great symbols, usually have an understood meaning. Not our flag. Ever since the 13 stars made room for more, ever since immigrants of every background came, ever since the first slaves arrived, the flag has sent a variety of messages. In the end, though, the flag has signaled to all that harmony will come with full democratic acceptance. The Americans of the nation’s capital, who live in plain sight of the citadel of democracy, continue their struggle for democracy and equality, knowing it must come, as it has for others who live under the American flag.”
Rep. Dave Reichert(R-Wash.) “I am always mindful that for every stitch in the flag waving against today’s June sky, there has been an identical flag draped over the casket of a soldier or a law enforcement officer — someone who gave their life so that fellow citizens could live freely and safely. For me, the American flag represents my pride in the United States of America and the sacrifices of thousands of men and women who fought and continue to fight to preserve our freedom and liberty. Those Americans put their lives on the line with honor, the flag is their symbol.”
Rep. Mike Thompson(D-Calif.) Throughout my district, American flags are proudly displayed on homes, businesses and in town squares. Wherever a flag is flown, it is a symbol of the freedoms men and women throughout our history have marched, fought and died to secure. It was flown on the beach in Normandy. It was raised over Iwo Jima. It was carried over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. It has draped the coffins of countless heroes who have fallen overseas. Not only does the flag represent our history, it represents our nation’s highest ideals — freedom, liberty and opportunity.”
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) “The flag is a very special thing. I salute the flag. It draped the coffin of my father and mother because of their service to the U.S. military, and one day it will be draped on mine.”
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.