William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
At 30 feet high and 42 feet across, the 15-star, 15-stripe* banner raised over Fort McHenry the morning of Sept. 14, 1814, was impressive by comparison even to the largest flags of the era. Flying over the fort in the waning hours of a 25-hour naval bombardment by 19 British warships and an unsuccessful ground assault of Baltimore, the giant flag was observed by Francis Scott Key, who was aboard one of the British ships to negotiate a prisoner release—and the sight of it flying defiantly against attack inspired the Maryland lawyer to write a poem that would become, more than a century later, the lyrics of our national anthem.
The national emblem of the United States was established by the Flag Act, passed by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. The act used one 32 words to make our flag official: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
The date is celebrated today as Flag Day.
Since June 1777, the flag of the United States of America has flown not only over battlefields, but also above schoolhouses, city halls and state capitols. It has been worn on the uniforms of U.S. expeditionary forces in combat around the world and is affixed today on the right shoulders of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It flies on the tails of U.S. airliners and aboard U.S ships at sea.
Most of the time it flies proudly atop flagpoles. On some days—when the nation mourns or remembers—it flies soberly at half-staff.
The Stars and Stripes have borne witness to some of the most memorable days in our nation’s history. Besides the oversized banner flying from the ramparts of Fort McHenry, two stand out among thousands:
- Feb. 23, 1945 — five Marines and a Navy corpsman fought their way up Mount Suribachi on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima in the western Pacific. When U.S. flag was raised to signal this high ground was taken, Associate Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was ready to capture the image with his Graflex Speed Graphic It is, arguably, the most famous photo of any flag—of any nation—in the history of the world.
- July 21, 1969 — Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted a specially-designed U.S. flag on the Sea of Tranquility as 600 million viewers around the world watched fuzzy black and white television images beamed to Earth from the moon. It was the first time any flag flew on the surface of another celestial body.
Today on Flag Day—and on every day—Americans can raise their own Stars and Stripes to celebrate the country this national emblem represents.
Did you know?
The celebration of Flag Day on June 14 began in Waubeka, Wis., in 1885, when schoolteacher Bernard Cigrand held the first formal observance at Stony Hill School. Cigrand later advocated for an annual observance of the flag’s birthday, which President Woodrow Wilson established by executive order in 1916. Today, Cigrand is widely considered the “father of Flag Day” in the United States.
Another anniversary is celebrated in the United States each year on June 14. The U.S. Army was established on this date in 1775 and this year marks its 236th birthday.
*The Fort McHenry flag featured 15 stars and stripes in recognition of the entry into the union of Vermont and Kentucky. The custom of adding stars for each new state continued through the admission of Hawaii in 1959, but the addition of new stripes was discontinued after the “Star Spangled Banner” flag of 1795 was retired in 1818.