Why We Have Flag Day

This was a really interesting assignment for the June 2014 issue of Boomer and Senior News. I got to meet people who have a deep reverence for the flag and know the entire history of every flag we’ve ever had in this country. They hold and share that knowledge proudly.


 The American flag and the POW-MIA flag fly in a brisk breeze outside of the Eugene Elks Lodge. Photo by Vanessa Salvia

The American flag and the POW-MIA flag fly in a brisk breeze outside of the Eugene Elks Lodge. Photo by Vanessa Salvia

Fly the Flag Proudly
Flag Day has a rich history and a lot of symbolism

By Vanessa Salvia

Celebrating Flag Day may not hold as much social cache as a Fourth of July picnic or Memorial Day parade, but that holiday has more pomp and circumstance behind it than any other.

Elk Lodges everywhere hold observances on Flag Day, June 14, which commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day, and in 1949 an Act of Congress during Harry S. Truman’s presidency (Truman was also an Elk) established National Flag Day. “The Elks are the reason that happened,” says Floyd Bard, a member of the Eugene Elks Lodge and chairman of the Flag Day committee.

The history of the Elks is intertwined inseparably with the history of Flag Day. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or BPOE, got its start in New York in 1868 as a social club known as the “Jolly Corks.” Early members were from a theatrical troupe that wanted a place to hang out where they could circumvent the limitations placed on public taverns.

In 1907, Elks members adopted a resolution designating June 14 as Flag Day, and in 1911 the Grand Lodge mandated that all local Lodges observe Flag Day with appropriate ceremonies. “Honoring the flag has been a very big part of our organization since the conception of the Elks,” says Bard, who has been an Elks member since 1969 and was Exalted Ruler (the chief executive officer) during 2011 and 2012. “We have a reverence for the flag and what we stand for that is very strong. The flag is a symbol of the protection of our land of liberty. The flag, for patriotism, is displayed on our altar in the lodge next to the antlers of protection and the Bible for justice. We never put a lodge meeting in order until we recite the Pledge of Allegiance.” Each lodge flies the American flag and the POW-MIA flag, “until every missing veteran is brought home one way or the other.”

The Elks’ beginning as a social club has sometimes tarnished their reputation, as people misperceive that the members just hang out and drink. The reality, according to Bard, is much different than that. “We are a charitable organization,” he says. “We don’t beat our drum and we don’t advertise as much as we should so people think we drink and we party and we have our dinners. That’s only one side of the Elks.”

The local Elks raise about $6,000 annually by parking cars for Duck football games in the Science Factory parking lot near Autzen Stadium. “Every penny of that goes to charity,” Bard says. The Casey Eye Institute in Portland, Oregon, would not be possible without the donations and volunteer hours of thousands of Elks from local lodges. “We also donate to Boys and Girls Club and to St. Vincent de Paul.” Bard, who served for 12 1/2 years in the Navy and 18 years in the Oregon National Guard, is president of the Lane County Veterans Stand Down, which provides services to homeless veterans. “Stand Down” is a military term that pertains to soldiers who are being sent home. “They’re coming back, they’re not fighting anymore, and they need to stand down,” Bard explains, “to transition themselves back into society. We’re trying to help them get back from being homeless and living under a bridge, maybe by getting an education or getting their federal or state benefits that they don’t know how to get. We have dental vans there for dental care, barbers, free clothes, free tents, free boots, free socks. We feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

The Elks’ deep reverence for the flag becomes fully apparent on Flag Day. This year, the Eugene Elks are combining their Flag Day observance with Father’s Day, because they are close together in June. The observances include a parade and explanation of each flag, a burning ceremony to retire flags, and speakers who are either military veterans or knowledgeable about the flag’s history. After the reverential ceremonies is a barbecue, with hot dogs, hamburgers and apple pie.

All of the historical flags are displayed—the Pine Tree flag; the Snake Flag emblazoned with Don’t Tread on Me; the Grand Union flag; the 1818 flag with 20 stars and 20 stripes; the Old Glory flag with 48 stars; the 50-star flag; the Betsy Ross flag with a circular field of stars, and the Star-Spangled Banner flag with15 stars and 15 stripes. “We have all of the flags that have been approved by Congress,” says Bard. “The only flag we don’t display on a regular basis is the 49-star flag. People don’t know this but for about a year and a half there was a 49-star flag and we have one but we don’t display it very often.” Historically, each time a territory became a state the flag would be changed the following July. The 49-star flag was only used for a short time after Alaska but before Hawaii became states.

When the flags are paraded in a speaker provides a brief history of each one. Then the flags are folded in the approved manner and displayed outside. Any flags that are to be retired are then burned in a proper ceremony. “The only way to retire a flag is to burn it,” explains Bard, “and the only way to burn it is under reverence.” If the fags are folded, they are unfolded, given their last rites, and saluted. “Taps” is played, and the flags are burned in an approved fire pit. “It’s very touching, very emotional,” says Bard.

Only four organizations are allowed to retire flags: The Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the military. Eugene Boy Scout Troop 22 is a major part of the ceremonies. Throughout the year the Elks and the Boy Scouts collect flags to be retired, and will probably burn up to 40 flags at this year’s event. It takes about 45 minutes to complete the flag-burning ceremony, and after that work is done, the barbecue begins.

Then comes the socializing, which everyone enjoys, but which Bard assures is not the focus of being an Elk. He got his start as an Elk because of his father-in-law, who was Exalted Ruler. Over his 45 years as an Elk, Bard has seen many changes in the organization. Though the lodge was historically only for men, women were permitted to join in the mid-1990s, and are now a strong part of the organization. “Probably 25 to 30 percent of our membership is female,” Bard says. In fact, the current Exalted Ruler of the Eugene lodge is a woman; her name is Janet Stimson. Right now, the Eugene lodge has about 430 members. “Like most fraternal organizations our membership is going down,” says Bard, but he’s hopeful that more young people will get involved when they realize how much charitable work the organization does. Before the Eugene lodge moved to its current location in the heart of Eugene on West 11th Avenue, it had a fine old building on Martin Luther King Boulevard, then known as Centennial Boulevard, before the City of Eugene used its power of eminent domain to acquire the property. “At that time we were the largest or the second largest lodge in the nation,” recalls Bard. “The Tacoma lodge and the Eugene lodge were fighting for it. We were just under 8,000 members.” Bard speaks sadly of that time in the lodge’s history, a time that they are still trying to recover from. “It’s a struggle, but the people that are still involved with the Elks are very strong within the community,” he says.

In order to be an Elk you must believe in God. You must be an American citizen. And you must take an oath of obligation that says you will be a morally upright member and that you will support the constitution of the United States and the Constitution and the bylaws of the lodge that you become a member of. And, there’s a $25 application fee. But to gain membership into an organization with such a rich history and dedication to patriotism and charity—that’s priceless.

The Eugene Lodge No. 357

2470 W. 11th Ave
541-338-7848 (lodge)
541-345-8416 (office)

Eugene, Springfield, Cottage Grove, Sweet Home, Lebanon, Corvallis and Florence all have independent lodges. Visit to enter your zip code and find a lodge near you.

Janet Stimson is the Exalted Ruler of Eugene Elks Lodge No. 357. She was elected in April 2014 and will serve until May 31, 2015. Photo by Vanessa Salvia

Janet Stimson is the Exalted Ruler of Eugene Elks Lodge No. 357. She was elected in April 2014 and will serve until May 31, 2015. Photo by Vanessa Salvia

Flag-Folding Ceremony and Meaning

The flag is lowered daily at twilight. Special care should be taken that no part of the flag touches the ground. The flag is then carefully folded into the shape of a tri-cornered hat, emblematic of the hats worn by colonial soldiers during the war for Independence. In the folding, the red and white stripes are finally wrapped into the blue, as the light of day vanishes into the darkness of night. When the flag is completely folded, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible.

The portion of the flag denoting honor is the canton of blue containing the stars representing the states our veterans served in uniform. The canton field of blue dresses from left to right and is inverted when draped as a pall on a casket of a veteran who has served our country in uniform.

In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.

Meanings of the Folds

The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life, which represents the origin of our nation, and our flag. The stars on the flag are symbolic of the heavens; the stripes are symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.

The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.

The fifth fold is a tribute to our country.

The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces.

The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered in to the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on mother’s day.

The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood.

The tenth fold is a tribute to fatherhood.

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God we Trust.”



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