‘Old Glory’ can be seen from the Hoover dike near Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee community members gathered Friday, July 10, to honor veterans and to dedicate a 13 ft. by 25 ft. United States flag which flies from a 60 ft. flagpole at Gilbert Chevrolet, 3550 U.S. 441 S. The flag, which is illuminated with spotlights at night, can be seen from the Herbert Hoover Dike.

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Okeechobee County Judge Jerry Bryant, who was the guest speaker for the event, said the idea for the giant flag goes back to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

His comments are below:

OUR FLAG

When I first heard of this project, I was very happy that it was finally being done. You see, probably 14 years ago or more, probably right after 9-11 when flags were waving everywhere, a good friend of mine and I were talking at lunch and he shared this great idea he had. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to drive down 441 South toward the lake and see a huge lighted flag on a flag pole that rises above the dike, right in the middle of 441?” I thought, “What a super way to show our patriotism.”

But other things took our time and energy and that project never got beyond the dream, even though we have talked about it several times over the years.

Well, now, thanks to your vision and generosity, Gil and family, we have something very close to what my friend and I envisioned.

Why does this flag mean so much to many of us?

Since its adoption in 1777 as the symbol a new nation founded on the principles of liberty and freedom, the flag has been respected, and protected, by every generation of Americans.

It has flown over every military installation, has marked every government building, has stood guard over every public school and hung in every classroom, has accompanied troops into battle and covered the returning bodies of those who gave their all, has led holiday parades all across this nation, has brought tears to the eyes of generations of Olympic athletes as they received their winning medals, and to this day even marks the landing spot of an American as the first man on the moon.

Yes, it carries great and deep meaning to most of us and to the generations before us. It embodies the American ideal.

And when I see people in other countries burn one of our flags to demonstrate their dislike for our United States, I feel a moment of anger toward them.

But I understand it, they do it as a gesture to show their ill feelings toward us, our government. The flag has no meaning to them, nothing special, except that it symbolizes us. I get that.

But when I see our own citizens burning, walking on, and desecrating our flag…. I don’t get that. There is no justifying such conduct.

That flag represents the blood and spirit of patriots who stood up to enemies on many fronts over 230 years to create, nourish, and protect a nation where we enjoy freedoms and a way of life known to few nations on this planet. The same freedoms that give them the right to treat our flag that way also provides them with benefits and security to enjoy our way of life… a way of life bought by brave men and women fighting under that flag. And these ungrateful jerks don’t understand that. They just don’t get it.

I get it, though. We were taught at an early age to respect the flag. And we pledged our allegiance to it every day. But immediately after arrival at Marine Corps boot camp, I learned how devoted our military is to that flag. On every military base the flag is raised in the morning and lowered at night, and all across the base reveille is played on loud speakers in the morning and taps is played at night during this time. This is called “colors.” And everyone on the base is required to stop what they are doing, face the direction of the flag, and salute. Cars and trucks must stop. All is quiet except for the sound of the bugle. As Marine recruits, we were quick to yell out “colors” at the first note from the bugle and we all showed appropriate respect.

The flag was at every entrance to our bases, in front of every hangar and building, on every aircraft, and on every vehicle. We were proud to be a part of this nation’s military service and to display that flag.

So I get it.

I’ll tell you a couple others who got it, too.

During the War of 1812, the British captured Washington and burned the Capital and the White House. They also took a much loved elderly doctor captive. They took Dr. Beanes aboard a ship among the British fleet and the Americans were afraid the Brits would hang him.

A young lawyer named Frances Scott Key, who lived in Georgetown just outside of Washington, was begged to try to gain the release of Dr. Beanes. He and an American prisoner exchange agent sailed to the British flagship taking with them letters from wounded British soldiers telling of Dr. Beanes’ actions in saving their lives. The British agreed to release the doctor, but would not let any of these men leave the ship until after they had carried out an attack on Fort McHenry and the City of Baltimore. They were afraid the Americans had overheard their plans.

Now Major George Armistead, the commanding officer of Fort McHenry, which sits on the end of a peninsula outside of Baltimore, knew the British would soon be attacking the fort and Baltimore.

Major Armistead devised a plan to fly a huge flag over the fort, so big that the British could see it from a distance. He sent officers to Baltimore to the home of Mary Young Pinkersgill, who was a flag maker, and commissioned her to make the huge flag.

Mary and her 13 year old daughter used 400 yards of quality wool bunting to make this flag. The flag consisted of 15 stripes, 8 red and 7 white, and 15 stars. Each star was 2 feet point to point, and each stripe was 2 feet wide.

The flag we are raising today is 13 by 25 feet. Major Armistead’s flag was 30 by 42, a full 17 feet longer. Imagine me, Gil and Bert standing on each other’s shoulders would barely reach half the height of that flag.

Knowing that this flag would be the target of rockets and cannon fire, Mary Pinkersgill sewed extra material in the binding along the edge that attached to the flag pole, so it wouldn’t easily be torn from the pole.

The attack began on the early morning of September 13, 1814, and went on for 25 hours. Frances Scott Key and the other two Americans kept their eye on the large flag over Fort McHenry – their hopes dependent upon the sight of their flag. In the night, the flag was visible only when a bomb burst in the air near the fort. And when the light of day appeared at dawn, the flag was torn and tattered but was still flying. The British abandoned their attack.

Frances Scott Key began writing a poem to record his experience while the battle was raging, and later finished it at his hotel in Baltimore. The poem was published in newspapers a week later and eventually was put to music. In 1931 that poem was adopted as our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

Major Armistead and Frances Scott Key understood the significance of this flag. They got it.

Another one who got it? Capt. William Driver, a sea captain who relocated from Massachusetts to Nashville, Tenn., after nearly 20 years at sea. When he first left home for the sea, he was given a 17X10 ft. flag. He kept that flag his entire career and unfurled it from his ships’ masts. He affectionately called his flag “Old Glory.” He continued to fly it daily in front of his home in Nashville.

When the Civil War broke out and Tennessee seceded from the Union, Capt. Driver continued to fly the flag, even though everyone around him were opposed to the Union and his Union flag.

The governor sent a committee to his home to get the flag. He refused to let them in without a search warrant.

When an armed squad of locals came to his house demanding the flag, he told them, “Over my dead body,” and they left.

He ultimately sewed the flag into a bed quilt to hide it. When Nashville became the first southern capital to fall to the Union, Capt Driver went to the capital and demanded to see the commanding officer. He then cut open the bed quilt to reveal the large flag, which he gave to the officer to fly over the capital. The flag was taken back for safekeeping and several years later was given to Driver’s daughter. She gave the flag to the Smithsonian before her death. Old Glory remains in the Smithsonian today.

Capt. Driver said this about his flag when he gave it to his daughter.

“This is my old ship flag Old Glory. I love it as a mother loves her child; take it and cherish it as I have always cherished it; for it has been my steadfast friend and protector in all parts of the world—savage, heathen and civilized.”

Capt Driver got it.

How about another one who gets it. Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday. In 1976, during the 200th birthday of our nation, two guys ran onto the field in Dodger Stadium and started to set fire to an American flag. Rick Monday ran to them and, without stopping, scooped the flag up and ran it over to the Dodger dugout. He was an instant hero and received a standing ovation when he came up to bat. His simple words? “If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it around me.”

Rick Monday got it.

And he still gets it to this day. He still has that flag and has turned down a million dollars to sell it. Rick Monday gets it.

Who else? The five Marines and the Navy Corpsman atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in February 1945. The image of those brave men raising our flag in victory is a lasting tribute to the spirit and bravery of our nation’s armed forces.

Those men all got it.

And these fine officers here, who will be raising this beautiful banner in a few moments, they get it.

These company employees who served our country, they get it.

The other veterans here today, they get it.

And most of all, the Culbreth family gets it. And they are willing to show it in this spectacular way. And for that I am especially grateful.

The star spangled banner, our national ensign, the stars and stripes, our flag, Old Glory. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the history it holds, the blood of patriots who fought for the ideals it represents, and the security and freedom it symbolizes, that matters. Do you get it? I hope you do.

In a moment, the Sheriff’s color guard will be raising this beautiful new flag. As we remain in respectful silence, let us ponder the importance of the flag’s symbolism to us and resolve to pass that on to those around us.

In closing …

From the last verse of our National Anthem:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave;
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And long may it wave.

Thank you for your kind attention.

God bless us all and God bless the United States of America.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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