On June 14 th each year, we celebrate the American Flag as an enduring symbol of freedom, equality, justice, and hope. Our flag is more than a symbol of our country’s core values — it also represents the toil and sacrifice of so many who have worked to lift America to the top of the world stage.
Flag Day officially commemorates the Continental Congress’ approval of the design on June 14, 1777. Some scholars believe the tradition of Flag Day began around 1889, the same year South Dakota became a state. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation honoring Flag Day. He noted, “when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights, we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done.”
Those American duties — the personal responsibility of our people — are wonderfully depicted in the colors of our flag. Red stands for hardiness and valor – the American people tamed a continent and have fought and died for generations to defend the freedoms that make our nation great. White stands for purity and innocence — our nation was the first in history to be founded on an ideal, “that all men are created equal,” and we must remain pure to that ideal in everything that we do. And Blue symbolizes justice for all — our nation stands for equal rights, equal treatment under the law, and limited government that doesn’t pick winners and losers.
We recently honored Memorial Day, and it was a tremendous reminder of the values depicted by our flag. Standing with rain-soaked patriots at the Black Hills National Cemetery, I watched as veteran after veteran, family after family, presented wreaths in honor of the more than 3,000 South Dakotans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.
As I watched a wheelchair-bound veteran endure the rain to participate in a flag presentation to a World War II veteran, the symbol of the red, white, and blue became more powerful. They call the flag “Old Glory.” She’s 245 years old, but her glory is eternal — the result of generations continuing to fulfill their duty to serve.
We must keep America strong so the flag can remain a symbol of hope for those yearning for freedom. President George Washington once said, "We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country (Great Britain), separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty." That Liberty has remained a beacon for so many around the world, and we must keep it that way.
For too long, there has been a radical push to redefine what the American Flag represents. We must reject that movement, but we must also recognize that our nation is always finding ways to improve and learn from mistakes. When our nation mourns, we lower the flag; we do not tear it down completely. It’s our history. It’s our heroes. It’s our legacy as the first nation to break through tyranny to self-govern under the rights given to us by our Creator.
Our Founding Fathers took 13 colonies and built One Nation Under God. It is our responsibility to continue that legacy and protect the flag as a symbol of freedom and democracy around the world.