Elks Honor Guard conducts Flag Day ceremony

To Don Hill, the American flag is more than a silky piece of red, white and blue material.

Its history is something not to be forgotten, and the flag is always to be respected, he said.

Over the years, Hill and other members of Seymour Elks Lodge 462 have taken it upon themselves to make sure people have opportunities to not only see the flag daily but to understand why they pledge allegiance to the flag.

On Wednesday evening, a day before the official observance of Flag Day, the Elks Honor Guard presented the history of the American flag to a small group of people inside the Elks lodge in downtown Seymour.

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The program was supposed to be conducted outside in the club’s fenced-in patio area, but a strong storm that pushed through moved the observance indoors.

In past years, the ceremony has been part of a larger community Flag Day program at One Chamber Square put on by American Legion Post 89 in Seymour. The legion always sponsored the chamber picnic that day but decided not to do either this year.

Hill, a longtime Elks member, U.S. veteran and retired educator, led Wednesday’s flag presentation.

“We welcome the public, whether you were born under the American flag or you have come here for freedom,” he said. “We welcome the veterans who served under the American flag. You, better than any, know what the flag stands for.

“We welcome the youth who will grow up getting the benefits of living in a free country,” he added. “We welcome all who love and defend the emblem of our country.”

Past exalted ruler Phil Cordes introduced his 9-year-old grandson, Conrad Cordes, who led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Conrad is a Boy Scout and has completed the Cub Scout rank.

Conrad and most people are familiar with only one American flag, the one with 50 stars that has flown since 1959 when stars were added for Alaska and Hawaii. Before that, the last change to the flag was in 1912 when two stars were added for New Mexico and Arizona.

“I have lived under two American flags — one with 48 stars and one with 50,” Hill said.

During the ceremony, the Elks Honor Guard displayed eight different flags representing the evolution of the American flag, starting with the yellow rattlesnake flag from 1774 featuring the motto “Don’t Tread on Me.”

It was followed by the pine tree flag, which was carried by the continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

On June 14, 1777, the United States adopted the flag by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. At that time, it featured 13 stars and 13 stripes — one for each of the original colonies. Two more stars and stripes were added in 1795 for Vermont and Kentucky.

But that was later changed back to 13 stripes and one star for each new state, leading up to the present 50.

Other flags included the Grand Union flag, the Betsy Ross flag and the 15-star, 20-star and 48-star flags.

Hill said it doesn’t matter whether it was luck or God’s will to be born under the American flag, it has given him freedom his entire life.

He recalled being a young schoolboy and standing each morning in the classroom with his hand over his heart reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

“My teachers taught us about the proud heritage of our country and those who fought and maybe died defending it,” he said.

Knowing the importance of instilling patriotism to children, Seymour Elks Lodge started a program to provide free American flags to all classrooms in Jackson County.

“We replaced faded flags and installed new flags when new schools and additions were added,” Hill said.

Eventually, other Elks lodges in the southeast district pledged to do the same, and then it became a statewide program with 73 lodges participating. In January 1988, the national Elks Grand Lodge adopted the same policy.

“Now, every Elks lodge in the United States pledges to put an American flag in every classroom that requests it,” Hill said. “This national resolution was born right here in the Seymour Elks Lodge.”