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The Flag of Liberation

Sunday, December 7, 1941. "A day that will live in infamy." On a quiet Sunday morning, Japanese fighter planes attacked the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. No warning had been given and as a result, the destruction and casualties were devastating. A total of 2,280 military men and women and 68 civilians were killed; 1,109 were wounded; and 19 naval vessels and 168 aircraft were completely destroyed.

The following morning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order directing that the American flag that had flown over the Capitol on December 7 be kept flying there— in spite of the fact that the flag is normally changed on a daily basis. Roosevelt then went to Congress and made the official request that we declare war on Japan and Germany.

For three full days, as Congress drafted a suitable statement, that same flag flew above Washington – it was only lowered when the formal Declaration of War was finally issued.

Roosevelt then directed that the flag – which he now called the “Flag of Liberation” – be carefully preserved. The folded banner accompanied him on many of his historic trips, including the voyage to French Morocco where he and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at the Casablanca Conference and announced their decision to join forces and fight the Axis powers.

On September 2, 1945, when two Japanese officials boarded the U.S. battleship Missouri to sign the official statement of surrender, the "Flag of Liberation" was flying high above them from the ship's mast.

An interesting side note: There was another flag flying over the Missouri that day—it was the American flag that had accompanied Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 when he sailed into Tokyo Bay and thus opened Japan to commerce with the West for the first time. It had been flown to the Missouri from its home in the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

The Largest and Smallest Flags

While the late Thomas "Ski" Demski of Long Beach, California, was leafing through the Guinness Book of World Records, he read that the world's largest flag was one created for the People's Republic of China. "That really got my patriotic blood roiling," said Demski. "The world's largest flag has got to be an American flag." Demski had already commissioned a number of large flags through the years, including "Superflag I" (160 feet by 95 feet), which flew in Tampa, Florida, at Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984, so he knew where to turn. He called Humphrey's Flags of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, to make his world-record flag—and they did.

The flag measures 255 feet by 505 feet; it weighs 3,000 pounds. Each of its stars measures 17 feet across and the stripes are almost 20 feet in width. It travels in its own motor home, touring the country on display to marveling Americans everywhere. It has been hung from the top of the Hoover Dam and from the Washington Monument. And of course, it made the Guinness Book of World Records.

The smallest American flag cannot be seen by the naked eye. It is found on a computer chip made by the Integrated Device Technology company. It measures only five microns in size.

The Highest and Deepest Flags

Most people know that the highest point at which the American flag has been flown is on the surface of the moon, placed there by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. This flag still flies where it was placed, and it will for centuries longer (unless someone else comes along and moves it). The airless environment of the moon guarantees that the fibers of the flag will not decay over time—but it also guarantees that there won't be any gusts of wind to billow it, so wires were sewn into the flag to keep it standing out from the pole.

Few, however, would know where our flag could be found in the deepest spot on Earth. It lies, seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, 210 miles southwest of Guam. Two brave men, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss scientist Jacques Pi-card, descended to record depths in the bathyscaphe Trieste in January of 1960. Not only did the two men prove man's ability to design a craft able to withstand hundreds of thousands of pounds of deep-sea pressure, they also left an American flag on the historic spot. It was released in a weighted plastic container where it is most likely curiously regarded by the creatures that inhabit this dark and mysterious place.

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