“We meet to celebrate Flag Day because this flag which we honor and under which we serve is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation…
We celebrate the day of its birth; and from its birth until now it has witnessed a great history, has floated on high the symbol of great events, of a great plan of life worked out by a great people.
“We are about to carry it into battle, to lift it where it will draw the fire of our enemies. We are about to bid thousands, hundreds of thousands, it may be millions, of our men, the young, the strong, the capable men of the nation, to go forth and die beneath it on the fields of blood far away,—
Woodrow Wilson, June 14, 1917. Address restating the reasons for U.S. entry into World War I
Flag Day was less than a year old when the U.S. entered World War I.
President Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed June 14th as Flag Day in 1916. The choice of June 14th is largely attributed to a school teacher from Waubeka, Wisconsin back in the 1880’s. Bernard Cigrand proposed the anniversary of the Second Continental Congress’s adoption of the first U.S. flag on June 14, 1777. He wrote articles about the should-be holiday and promoted it locally and nationally through articles and events.
The first National Flag Day was June 14, 1916. The backdrop of the celebrations was the war in Europe in which millions of young men were being cut down by machine gun fire and other wonders of modern warfare technology or (far more) by disease. Americans fiercely debated whether the U.S. should become involved in the European conflict. In April 1917, President Wilson—who had run on a policy of isolationism–asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany and its allies.
It would be a while before troops were ready to be sent to Europe, but America wanted to send a symbol of its presence immediately.
Arthur Clifford Kimber, a 21 year-old Stanford University student and Ambulance Corps volunteer, was selected to carry the flag of the Stanford Unit of the American Ambulance Field Service across the country and then across the Atlantic to France. It was a largely symbolic gesture—the first officially sanctioned U.S. flag sent to the front after U.S. entry in the war.
Before Kimber even left the States, he showed his tenacity by defending the chosen flag from a mob of U.C. (University of California) students in New York. As Stanford’s rivals, the Cal students wrestled the flag from him before a parade down Fifth Avenue. The Cal students took off in a taxi, which Kimber chased by jumping onto the running-board of passing car. He caught up with the taxi at 73rd St, retrieved the flag with the aid of a cop, and made it back in time for the start of the parade…