“Whose Broad Stripes And Bright Stars”

Joseph A. Maderick, 32°
44-300 Camino Azul
La Quinta, California

Restoration of the original flag that few over Fort McHenry (right) is an affirmation of patriotism and a statement of appreciation for our country.

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History plans to repair, restore, and preserve the original flag that flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry at the end of the War of 1812. This hallowed flag has hung in the Smithsonian for nearly a century. It is badly damaged and in a state of deterioration that requires very expensive and immediate attention. This very flag, about which our National Anthem was written, must be saved regardless of the possible fifteen million dollar cost.

Some question whether the flag is worth the cost of its salvation. To anyone who has ever attended a sports event and became annoyed or angered at some disrespectful person either refusing to stand or continuing to talk during the playing of our National Anthem, this controversy is absurd. Questioning the cost of restoring this precious flag is beside the point to those Americans who have ever had their eyes well with tears at seeing “Old Glory” whipping in the wind atop the Iwo Jima Memorial, draped over a fallen soldier’s casket, stretched out over the airless desolation of the moon, or stitched upon the shoulders of an American rescue team. To these people there is no other side of this issue. The restoration of this beloved relic is an affirmation of their patriotism and a statement of their appreciation for America.

Opponents to the restoration say that the old flag is just a symbol, just an old piece of cloth. In a crass kind of way, they are right. However, they are missing a few significant points. This woolen banner (30’ x 42¾’), this “old piece of cloth,” is the very same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words to his famous poem. Those words, when later set to music, became our National Anthem, another “symbol,” the song played whenever our athletes win Olympic honors. It is the song that every first-grader in every American school learns along with the Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem may simply be a song about a flag, but it is not just any flag. It is about this particular flag.

This is the flag, when raised that morning in 1814, stood as a symbol of our national will, honor, and accomplishment. When it unfurled that morning, its cloth symbolized the will of America once again standing in triumph over impossible odds. It still stands as such today. It is the symbol of who and what we Americans are. It represents America.

Today, the United States of America stands tall as the greatest country in the history of this planet. This ancient flag is the grandfather of all our Stars and Stripes. To consider an artifact of this magnitude “just a symbol” or “just a piece of cloth” is like calling orbiting on the Space Shuttle just another airplane ride.
The opponents to the project protest that the money can be better spent on more worthy endeavors. It is because of who we are and because of those who sacrificed their lives under those colors that all of those other worthy causes will be handled. The flag is symbolic of this principle. We will solve all of those problems and many, many more just as we have solved countless others in the past. This flag represents the irrepressible spirit of who we are. It speaks for what we have already done and for what we can and will still do.
Other detractors say the price is absurd and far more than a 184-year-old woolen is worth. It is true that it only cost $400 when it was new and that might equate to but a few thousand dollars in today’s money. This may make the price of restoration seem even more excessive. However, consider the price of the project in more relative terms. Fifteen million dollars represents just a little more than a nickel per American. It amounts to one hour and twenty minutes of interest on the national debt and one-one hundred and thirty-sixth of one percent of the 1.1 trillion dollar Federal budget. It is not half enough to even produce a decent movie. It amounts to about ten minutes of trading on the stock exchange. Compared to these numbers, fifteen million appears barely significant.

This old flag flew over a horrendous battle and sent a message to the invading British that they picked a fight with the wrong nation. The descendents of this flag have delivered this same message over countless battlefields ever since. This flag is the one. It is the original symbol. It sent out that first signal from the sovereign nation of the United States to the whole world. For this reason alone, we are obligated to preserve this historic flag.

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry announced to the world the principles for which America stands. Surely, we would preserve our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, the Tomb of the Unknowns, or our Viet Nam War Memorial because of their symbolic values to the spirit of this nation.

Granted, all of this is sentiment, but this same deep feeling composes the very essence of what has always made America great. We must preserve the original Star Spangled Banner from the insidious ravages of time. This huge banner, in such disrepair, needs our loving and grateful attention. In the greatest and wealthiest country on Earth, mere money cannot and certainly should not stand as an obstacle to the preservation of one of our grandest symbols.