June 14th is officially designated both Flag Day and the Army Birthday in the United States. These two are intertwined, as the need for a flag, and the need of an army, arose from our bid for independence. The Army traces its birthday to an act of the Continental Congress in 1775, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence. The flag’s birthday is traced to another act of the Continental Congress, one year after the Declaration of Independence. The Army has marched under the flag, in its many configurations, and sometimes come home draped in the flag.
Happy 243rd Birthday, Army!
The Second Continental Congress took the dangerous step of voting to establish an Army, while still professing loyalty to the Crown. They maintained a right to resist unjust armed force with force of arms, until they finally came to the consensus, in 1776, that there could be no reconciliation. To support their compatriots in the Boston area, the Continental Congress voted to establish and fund six rifle companies, the start of the Army on June 14, 1775. From the Journals of Congress (spellings as printed) [PDF]:
Resolved, That six companies of expert rifflemen, be immediately raised in Pensylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia; that each company consist of a captain, three lieutenants, four serjeants, four corporals, a drummer or trumpeter, and sixty-eight privates.
That each company, as soon as compleated, shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.
That the pay of the Officers and privates be as follows, viz. a captain @ 20 dollars per month; a lieutenant @ 13 1/3 dollars; a serjeant @ 8 dollars; a corporal @ 7 1/3 dollars; drummer or [trumpeter] @ 7 1/3 doll.; privates @ 6 2/3 dollars; to find their own arms and cloaths.
That the form of the enlistment be in the following words:
I _____ have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the sa. Army.
Upon motion, Resolved, That Mr. [George] Washington, Mr. [Philip] Schuyler, Mr. [Silas] Deane, Mr. [Thomas] Cushing, and Mr. [Joseph] Hewes be a committee to bring in a draft of Rules and regulations for the government of the army.
The next day, “George Washington received his appointment as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.” The same Congress, later in 1775, also established the Navy and then the Marine Corps.
Today, across the globe, Army soldiers are eating birthday cake. The custom is for the youngest and oldest soldier present to cut the cake together.
Pictures from South Korea, above, and Afghanistan, below, tell the tale of the Army’s service around the world. The Afghanistan photograph is especially telling, as the soldiers are from 191st Regional Support Group, a National Guard unit in Puerto Rico. The 191st RSG soldiers‘ families, in Puerto Rico, are still recovering from the hurricane, while the small headquarters manages base operations. When I commanded such a unit, I pitched it to strangers as “a town hall in a box.”
Shocking to our current Congressional grandees, the Continental Congress worked six days a week, when in session. So it was, that the Journals of the Continental Congress, Saturday, June 14, 1777, recorded a description of the new national flag.
Resolved, That the flag of the ||thirteen|| United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.
While observations of the date began in the late 1800s, there was no strong movement, until the beginning of the Cold War, for a national observation. From a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Flag Day flier [PDF]:
Both President Wilson, in 1916, and President Coolidge, in 1927, issued proclamations asking for June 14 to be observed as the National Flag Day. But it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that Congress approved the national observance, and President Harry Truman signed it into law.
Spartan mothers were said to admonish their sons “with your shield—or on it.” That meant to return with honor: either carrying the shield after victory, or being carried on it. Today, our soldiers return from deployments, either with the flag on their shoulder, or under the flag.