ScoutingMay-June 2002

Honoring Old Glory

By Robert Peterson

The BSA's Greater Pittsburgh Council shares its building and patriotic fervor with the National Flag Foundation.

Talk about flag-waving! Adjacent to the big stone building that houses the offices of the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America is a plaza dominated by five towering flagpoles.

Day and night the poles hold five 12-by-18-foot flags—the familiar 50-star U.S. flag, the Pennsylvania state flag, the city of Pittsburgh's banner, the local council's flag, and a replica of one of 31 historic flags that have flown in America.

Each evening, the historic flag is ceremoniously retired by a team of Scouts and replaced by another. Before the ceremony, the Scouts will have spent a half-hour learning about the historic import of the flag they will raise and viewing a film on the history of the American flag. They meet in the council building's Flag Room, which is filled with paintings and other art featuring flags. The council hosts a local troop, pack, or post every evening in this room. Visitors go home with a memento, a poster-size chart showing 36 flags that have flown over a part or all of the country.

A flag authority

A daily ritual since the local council's building was opened in 1968, the flag ceremony is particularly meaningful because the Greater Pittsburgh Council shares its headquarters with the National Flag Foundation (NFF). Dedicated to promoting pride and respect for the U.S. flag and responsible citizenship among America's youth, the NFF is the widely acknowledged authority on the proper display of and courtesies due the U.S. flag.

"We get from 50 to 100 inquiries a week by phone, e-mail, and letters," NFF Executive Director David L. White said. "One of the most frequent is: 'When is it appropriate to fly the flag at half-staff? Can I fly it at half-staff if a member of my family dies?'" (Answer: No. Half-staff display is reserved for mourning principal figures in the U.S. government and for state governors.)

"Once we got a call from Hawaii asking if it'd be O.K. to fly the flag from a palm tree," White said. "We said, 'It's O.K. as long as it's at the peak of the tree.'"

The widespread flying of the flag that followed the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., last Sept. 11 doubled and redoubled the NFF's number of inquiries. "We had all five of our phone lines ringing at once," said Barbara S. Goldman, director of marketing. "All the staffers were going home hoarse." By mid-November the volume of calls and messages had subsided somewhat but was still higher than the pre-Sept.11 level.

In pursuit of its educational mission, the Flag Foundation publishes several brochures, posters, and newsletters, most notably Our Flag, a 16-page guide to flag courtesies for use by schools, businesses, and organizations. More than four and a half million copies have been distributed. You can get one by sending 35 cents and a stamped, self-addressed business envelope to National Flag Foundation, Flag Plaza, 1275 Bedford Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

Flag Day festivities

Flag Day, June 14, is a major date on the Flag Foundation calendar. Last year several hundred Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Venturers, Girl Scouts, adult leaders, and interested citizens gathered at Flag Plaza at 8 in the morning for a half-hour of flag-raising, singing of the national anthem by soprano Seana Simon, bugling of taps by Venturer Stephen Lipnichan, and remarks by Mayor Tom Murphy of Pittsburgh and Scout council president James Crawford (who is also chairman of the board of directors of the National Flag Foundation).

"Ben Franklin"—as portrayed by Clark Rogers, Flag Foundation director of educational programs—introduced the world's biggest "Betsy Ross" flag, a 30-by-60-foot banner that 60 volunteers unfurled and re-furled as the Pittsburgh Fire Fighters Memorial Pipe Band skirled "You're a Grand Old Flag."

'Flags Across America'

On Flag Day evening, the spotlight shifted to Rochester, Pa., northwest of Pittsburgh, for the dedication of the impressive Beaver County Flag Plaza.

Located on a grassy plain along the Ohio River, the plaza features a 30-by-60-foot, 50-star flag atop a 120-foot pole as its centerpiece.

Nearby, historic U.S. flags fly on 26 smaller poles, and a granite wall displays the directions for showing respect to the flag, facts about the flag, the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the Pledge of Allegiance, and the names of leaders of the county NFF chapter. Names of donors are on bricks of the walkway in front of the wall.

The Beaver County Plaza is the 11th and most impressive site to be completed in the Flag Foundation's ambitious Flags Across America¨ program, David White said. The first plaza was inaugurated in 1989 in Johnstown, Pa.; the goal is to have similar installations in all 3,142 counties in the nation, and about 50 are in the planning stages.

"We hope that Beaver County will be the model for others to follow," White said. "One of the important objectives of such a project is to bring together a community," he added. "It also raises patriotism and respect for the flag, and it helps the younger generation understand their legacy and the sacrifices of older generations."

'O Say Can You See?'

The National Flag Foundation is developing a three-pronged educational program called "O Say Can You See?"

One component is "Young Patriots," an interactive Web site scheduled to go online by fall 2002, for use in schools and by home-schoolers to help fulfill mandated requirements in civics and flag education. The second is a film for national television that teaches the history and meaning of the U.S. flag.

The third component is "Patriot's Place," intended to provide hands-on training in community service. The idea, David White explained, is to immerse Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and members of Boys and Girls Clubs of America in their community.

"It's like doing the Citizenship in the Community merit badge, but to a much broader extent," he said.

Contributing editor Robert Peterson lives in Ramsey, N.J.

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