Brig. Gen. Isaac G. Osborne Jr., assistant adjutant general of the Tennessee National Guard, asked older citizens to teach younger generations that respect for the flag is more than just reverence for a piece of material, it is appreciation of the American way of life.
Osborne was the guest speaker at the annual Flag Day ceremony at Elks Lodge 1944 at 235 2nd St.
“Remember,” he said, “just because our flag has flown for over 200 years does not mean it can’t be devalued or forgotten in a fraction of that time. It’s our job as Americans to preserve, protect and promote it every way we can. Thank you for being up to the job and for helping to celebrate this inspirational symbol of our great country.”
He urged Americans to remember the sacrifices of so many who have fought and died to preserve the flag and the ideals for which it stands. Remember the Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington Cemetery and how those Marines fought for Iwo Jima, how many lives were lost and what a privilege it was for those survivors to raise the flag over the tiny island.
The general lamented that Flag Day is unobserved by most Americans since it is not a federal holiday. He commended members of the Elks Lodge for their efforts. He also thanked military veterans for their service.
“For so many years this day has gone relatively unnoticed, celebrated mainly by military, veterans and organizations like the Elks that know the meaning of service and what our flag represents,” he said. “Today, as we wage a global war on terrorism and watch as our flag is burned and destroyed by our enemies, we can appreciate even more the freedom this symbol represents.
“The legendary American author O. Henry once wrote, ‘You can’t appreciate home till you’ve left it, money till it’s spent or Old Glory till you see it hanging on a broomstick waving proudly in another country.”
He recalled that when the United States of America was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans rushed to display the red, white and blue colors on their homes, cars and office buildings. In September 2000 Walmart sold 6,400 flags, but sold 116,000 in September 2001.
“The flag has flown high over celebrations and [been] lowered to half-staff in reverence for the dead. It has covered the coffins of many veterans and has been folded in the reverent three-corner fold and been presented to family members,” he said. “School children begin their day by facing the flag and reciting their pledge to our country, but now, in some schools even that isn’t allowed.”
But, Osborne said, every day on American bases and posts all around the world, men and women in uniform stop all activity twice a day while the colors are raised in the morning and lowered in the evening.
“I’ve done it hundreds of times in my career and it’s always been a very special feeling to me,” he said. “Throughout my career I have witnessed the changes in respect for the flag and the military uniform. I entered the Army in 1974 at a time when there was little respect for the uniform or the flag. Many times the flag had been shown burned on national news and the military was mocked. If you lived during that time and remember, the center of those demonstrations was many college campuses.
“The military and flag were mostly forgotten until Desert Shield and Desert Storm erupted in 1990, and then again after Sept. 11, 2001, respect changed. I am so grateful for the resurgence of patriotism and am so proud of my brethren in the military and this country.
“My message to you is be proud of this country and its accomplishments and honor your flag as a symbol of freedom. For those who have gone to war, serve in the military or are a military family, that simple piece of fabric means home, safety and freedom no matter where it flies.”
He said there will always be those who burn the flag in order to show their defiance — an act he finds despicable, but the reality is, he said they are underscoring the very meaning of our flag — freedom.
He said the flag means freedom to speak, act, write and think.
“Our nation recently witnessed the hostility which came from desecration or burning of the Koran. How great it would be if our country had the same reaction to burning our flag or Holy Bible,” the general said. “Today, the three colors of red, white and blue serve to represent a nation filled with racial, religious and political diversity and it remains, as it always will, a testament to the fortitude and vision of our Founding Fathers.”
Also participating in the 2012 program were Elks Club 1944 Exalted Rule Reggie Law and the Rev. Dr. Joel Huffstetler, pastor, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church who offered the invocation and benediction.
Gretchen Coppinger read a tribute to American veterans as bagpiper Brad Collins played “Amazing Grace.”
A history of the flags of the United States was read by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland as historic flags were presented by Troop 10 of the Boy Scouts of America and the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter of the Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
The colors were presented and retired by Law and U.S. Navy Sea Cadets, Chattanooga Division.
Second Edition of Lee University sang “God Bless America.”
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a distinctly American organization formally organized in 1868 in New York City. Its declared purposes are to practice its four cardinal virtues: charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity.
The Elks has celebrated the flag since the early days of the organization and allegiance to the flag is a requirement of every member.
The idea of an Elks Flag Day service was first suggested in 1907. The club formally designated June 14 as Flag Day in 1911. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day. It wasn’t until August 1949 that national Flag Day was established by an act of Congress and signed by President Harry Truman.