Military History and Flags
Of all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Navy may be the most diverse. Everyone thinks of the Navy as just sailors, protecting our country from the deck of a ship, but the Navy has a rich intelligence branch, a naval air force and a special operations force, the Navy SEALS. The brave men and women who serve our country in the Navy are much more than sailors patrolling our waters. With their prestigious history of service, it is fitting that the Navy has a flag as proud as their servicemen.Read more »
The United States Armed Forces have engaged in countless battles in defense of the freedom so many of us take for granted. We see coverage of the devastation of war on the news but rarely see information on the members of the military who are captured or missing during these conflicts.Read more »
Since the 1700s, the United States Army has been an extremely valuable and necessary part of the United States of America. The Army’s principal duty is to fight in military occupation as well as battles occurring on land.
Did that get your attention? It should have, because that motion with the flags in that position is the internationally designated semaphore signal for “Attention!” It also means “Error,” but we can skip that for now.
Semaphore flags are the end result of a signaling system developed in the late 1600s by Robert Hooke (of microscope fame). He presented it to the Royal Society, but they failed to do anything with it. A century later, it was adapted and used by Claude Chappe in France,
In rear windows, on motorcycles, flying on flag poles in front of businesses and homes, the POW-MIA flag has become an iconic symbol in America for the nation's concern for military personnel missing and unaccounted for in foreign wars. The idea for such a flag was first thought of by Mary Helen Hoff, wife of Navy pilot Lieutenant Commander Michael Hoff who had been missing in action in Vietnam since January 7, 1970.
Hoff was a member of the National League of POW/MIA Families, an organization whose sole mission is “to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing, and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia." Created in 1969 by the wives of POWs in Southeast Asia, their purpose was originally to raise awareness about the mistreatment of POWs, and it grew into much more.
Feeling as though the organization needed a standard in which to spread the message of the organization, Hoff called the world's oldest, well-known flag maker Annin Flagmakers in Verona, New Jersey. The company was honored to be chosen to make such a flag, representing so much for many families across the United States. They took it to their advertising agency to design, and the assignment was given to one of the graphic designers.
In 1972, Newt Heisley created the design for the now famous flag. Heisley was a veteran himself, a pilot in World War II who flew C-64 transports for the 433rd Troop Carrier Group and earned the bronze star for his service. He modeled the silhouette profile we readily recognize in the POW-MIA flag after his son who, at the time, was serving in the Marine Corps. In an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1997, Heisley told reporters that the flag “was intended for a small group. No one realized it was going to get national attention.”
But that's exactly what happened. The flag was used to keep the POW-MIA issue fresh in the minds of Americans across the country. Finally, Congress passed a law in 1990 stating the flag was now recognized "as a symbol of our Nation's concern
The American Revolution was a turbulent time for a new nation on the verge of being born. Settlers who had come here to escape the oppression of England's royal rule banded together to fight for freedom, to establish a new republic in which all men are created equal. To unite the people, creating a feeling of belonging, pride, and patriotism, flags were flown for various purposes and over clusters of militia.Read more »
Who Were the Green Mountain BoysOne such militia consisted of the Green Mountain Boys, a group of settlers and land speculators who controlled the area called the New Hampshire Grants, located between the Connecticut River and Lake Champlain, what we know today as Vermont. Technically, they were under the control of New York, a decision made by the British;
Flags have long delineated who we are as individuals, what groups we belong to, and what we want to claim as our own. The brilliant colors and strange menageries found on banners are their own language, for flags were meant for communication before literacy was common. In the less civilized days of our past, the designs on flags gave travelers, soldiers, and common folk basic information about the areas they were living in or traveling through. At the very apex of these communications, flags were the ones used in battle. Any given army or unit would be identified by their ensign from afar, and the most vital (and dangerous) job on the field was the standard bearer. An unusual position of honor, the person chosen to carry the flag for his army had to be an extraordinary one, for he was the primary target for all as soon as he set foot in battle.Read more »
Quick Communication: A Bright IdeaBefore the modern invention of the radio, communication at a distance—whether during war or peace—was a difficult prospect. Written messages and couriers were somewhat effective, but hazardously slow and hard to deliver, especially during pitched battle. Accurate positioning of appropriate forces was absolutely essential—so each unit would have a designated soldier who carried a token of identification on a long pole. These manifested in several ways, with animals being the most popular icons.
The Aquila: A Spirit of BattleOf particular importance for the Romans was the Aquila, the bronze eagle carried to represent the spirit of the entire army. A general, from a small distance, could see the movements of his forces by their ensigns and correct them swiftly. In return, any given soldier could find his general by seeking the Aquila. Being chosen to carry the Aquila was one of the highest honors that could be bestowed upon a soldier: Not only was that eagle the rallying point, it was the avatar of the army’s fighting spirit. To the Romans, the Aquila was a god. To carry and defend that spirit required a fighter of the highest ability, possessed of independent intelligence and a fanatical devotion to Rome itself. Concurrently, the standard bearer was usually accompanied by the general himself and an elite group of soldiers: the color guard. While still being an active part of the fighting force, this particular unit was devoted to the preservation of their standard. The loss of that symbol, that god, was a devastating blow for two reasons. First, it meant that they had lost their deity and their honor. Second, and deadly from a tactical point of view, the regular army would have no visual signal to indicate central command. An army without a standard was often an army without a general, and, therefore, must be losing badly. Troops would often break and run without the assurance of an intact chain of command.
The Hundred Years WarThough the Roman Empire eventually fell, the sanctity of one’s standard and the honor of being flag-bearer continued down through the ages. In particular, as the ideals of chivalry spread through Western Europe, the honor of carrying your country’s emblem redoubled in importance. With the concept of knighthood came the secondary display of one’s own colors, or “device.” This was especially noteworthy during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between England and France. Rich ransoms could be acquired by capturing the right people. A captured knight was a valuable commodity, and the money his King would pay for his freedom not inconsiderable. All you had to do was read the correct flags and capture soldiers carrying their easily identifiable shields. This was a common practice, for one or two ransoms could provide a gentlemanly retirement. Of particular interest on any given field of battle, then, was any monarch present, readily identified by his own personal standard. The knight charged with the duty of carrying the king’s banner was one of proven skill and bravery, for once again the banner made him a target. As the model of the perfect knight, Sir Geoffroi de Charny of France may be the most iconic standard bearer in all of history. A noteworthy statesman and brilliant fighter, de Charny was charged to carry the Oriflamme—the standard of the French monarchy. It was considered to be the embodiment of their military greatness, much as the Aquila was centuries before. At the Battle of Poitiers (though at almost sixty years of age), the valiant de Charny carried the Oriflamme and fought at the side of the king himself. Against overwhelming odds (five Englishmen to every one Frenchman) de Charney’s courage never faltered. This “true and perfect knight” died at the hands of the English, but even as he perished he refused to relinquish the Oriflamme. Such was the power of these symbols and the collective belief accumulated with their presence. The French suffered a devastating defeat, but the legend and the impact of Geoffroi de Charny’s actions have remained impressive through the annals of history.
The Civil WarOver four hundred years later, the intertwined importance of the flag and the standard-bearer still carried great weight. Whereas before capture and ransom were an essential part of war, the American Civil War unfolded new depths of terror upon the battlefield. Unlike the almost ceremonial confrontations of Europe, this conflict was known for being horrifically bloody. The invention of gunpowder and the common usage of rifles added incalculable risk to those chosen to carry the flag. Not only were the standard bearers still marked targets, they were now often the only visible targets in fields clouded with gunsmoke. Both the North and the South had conventions for the color guard—nine men total—but the peril was equal for both sides. The army’s flag and flag bearer were always the prime targets for the densest and most violent fighting. Again, capturing the enemy’s flag was considered an act of the sheerest bravery, and the men responsible would be honored for their courage. No unit surrenders their standard easily, and the price men paid on both sides of the battle was incalculably steep.
Where Did the Battle Flags Go?It is fairly accurate to say that very few elements of combat have stayed consistent since Roman times. The advent of modern warfare tactics, remote communication, flight, and motorized vehicles all contribute to a very different approach to warfare. A flag is no longer strictly necessary. Often, in missions of liberation, an openly displayed flag would be viewed as an act of occupation and not one of rescue. Unit flags are still kept and treasured, but are only flown in the most tactful ways possible. Much of today’s warfare depends on swiftness and stealth, both of which would be greatly hampered by a gigantic flag. In lieu of this, members of the American army still carry the Stars and Stripes on their sleeves in muted colors. You can find almost any flag you may want to fly at AmericanFlags.com, where the standards are made in America, by Americans. It is interesting to note, however, that the stars always face forward,