Old Glory flew high and proud on June 14 as Huntsville's veterans groups celebrated the 231st birthday of the U.S. flag with patriotic music, exhibits and speeches at Veterans Memorial Park.
It was an historic event in a park that will undergo a drastic change during the next year as the new $4 million veterans memorial is built on its grounds. For that reason, said retired Sgt. David Carney, president of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, the downtown Huntsville park became a special location for several veterans groups and the community to celebrate Flag Day 2008.
"Together, we have created a significant collective memory," he said.
Making that memory were such groups as the Huntsville Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Alabama Marine Moms, Veterans Museum, the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, Air Force Historical Society, Patriot Guard Riders, the 19th Alabama Re-Enactors and Military Order of World Wars. They were joined by members of the Alabama National Guards 151st Band, local Boy Scout Troop 400, Air Defense Artillery Association, Sergeants Major Association, Warrant Officers Association, Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer and event attendees in posing around a 15-by-25-foot U.S. flag for a photograph that is now part of the park's history.
But that larger-than-life flag wasn't the only U.S. flag flying high at the event. Attendees waved flags throughout the morning celebration and a large flag hung high over the park grounds.
"Look up, as it flies over this very spot, a location that will soon be the center of our tribute to our veterans as we transform this park into the Madison County Veterans Memorial depicted on that billboard in front of us," said guest speaker retired Brig. Gen. Bob Drolet as he pointed toward the sign announcing the upcoming construction of the memorial.
"Above us waves the symbol of unity in America. It's the symbol of our values and our ideas, the symbol for our liberties. It's the symbol of our military and our country's might. It's so powerful, it's the foundation of our national anthem or is our national anthem. It's the one symbol that represents all we believe in. It's an object of respect and reverence."
Calling the U.S. flag a "beacon of freedom," Drolet said it has stood for "freedom, justice and the resolve of our nation" since being adopted by the second Continental Congress in 1777. It was also the inspiration for "The Star-Spangled Banner" written by Francis Scott Key in 1814.
The flag that inspired Key "still energizes and emboldens the American spirit today," Drolet said. "As our nation faces the challenges of a new era, Old Glory reminds us that liberty can prevail over oppression."
He said Flag Day is a day to "remember those in uniform whose courage and sacrifice inspire us here at home. We also remember the rich history of our oldest national symbol and reflect on our duty to carry our heritage of freedom into the future."
Flying in places like on the moon, atop Mt. Everest and in Anzio, Guadalcanal, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, Drolet said the "flag is how America signs her name."
"The flag serves as an undaunted source of inspiration for all of us. It gives us a unique identity and a sense of belonging with this glorious land ... Today our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world, proudly fight the Global War on Terrorism while serving under that very same flag that countless generations have served and loved. Let us thank God today for a nation that is free, through the blood of patriots who loved Old Glory and the freedom she represents."
Also during the Flag Day ceremony, the Air Defense Artillery Association presented a $10,000 donation to the Veterans Memorial fund, Spencer read a proclamation in honor of Flag Day, the Veterans Museum and 19th Alabama Re-Enactors exhibited pieces of military history and the Alabama National Guard 151st Band played several patriotic pieces, including "American Soldier."