In Our View: The Origins of Flag Day

One of the early leaders in the campaign was inspired by immigrant parents

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Bernard J. Cigrand probably is not a name that rolls familiarly off the tongue of most Clark County residents. But the National Flag Day Foundation describes him as "a devout patriot with a great love of the flag of our nation" and "first and foremost an American patriot."

As Americans celebrate Flag Day today, our first reminder is to fly your United States flag today and any other day you feel is appropriate, which, of course, for many people is every day.

Our second Flag Day reminder is that some of the most influential people in our nation's history aren't necessarily among the most famous.

Bernard J. Cigrand is such a person.

His story begins before his birth on Yankee Hill in Waubeka, Wis., on Oct. 1, 1866. More than a decade earlier, his parents immigrated to the United States from Luxembourg.

Even without his immense love for all things American, Cigrand was destined for success, as the website above recounts. As a child, he sold scrap iron and rags to buy books. He sold books and Bibles at age 12. Later, he worked as a conductor on a steam barge and taught school before entering Lake Forest College of Dentistry, where he graduated first in his class in 1888.

It was during dental school that Bernard Cigrand's powerful patriotism began to flourish. As a contributing editor of the Encyclopedia Americana, he revealed a strong clairvoyance when he wrote "The Recognition and Meaning of Flag Day" and "Laws and Customs Regulating the use of the Flag of the United States."

Many more books followed, mostly historical, but Cigrand never stopped writing about the country that his immigrant parents taught him to love. "Story of the American Flag," "Story of the Great Seal of the United States," "History of American Emblems," "The History of American Heraldry" and other publications anchored in perpetuity Cigrand's steadfast patriotism. In numerous magazine and newspaper stories, he continued his advocacy for a national flag observance. Many others helped lead the campaign.

Early in the 1900s, Flag Day observances became so widespread around the country that a formal recognition became necessary. President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1916 that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. In 1949, Congress passed legislation to that effect, and today, on June 14, Americans celebrate not only Flag Day but the birthday of the U.S. Army (1775).

That might seem like the end of the story of Bernard Cigrand, who died in 1932. But more than seven decades later, on June 14, 2004, Congress unanimously declared that Flag Day originated in Waubeka, Wis., Cigrand's hometown.

Today, many political disputes devolve into comparisons of patriotic intensity. But Cigrand probably would dismiss such arguments as irrelevant. Our belief is that true patriotism transcends all ideological boundaries, just as it breathes in remote corners of America such as Cigrand's tiny Waubeka.

And just as it will be on display today and every other day in Clark County. Among local Flag Day ceremonies today is a 3:30 p.m. event at the Fort Vancouver National Site's parade ground bandstand. Local fifth-graders will dress in 18th-century costumes, speak about the meaning of the flag, challenge local mayors in an American history quiz and judge the patriotic tie competition. A grand time will be had by all, but as Cigrand no doubt would remind us, this love of flag is a 24/7/365 allegiance.