What better way to celebrate this day than with a song specifically about the United States flag? Written by George M. Cohan in 1906 – and the first song from a musical to sell over a million copies of sheet music – “You’re a Grand Old Flag” has been popular for over a century:
The original lyric for this perennial George M. Cohan favorite came, as Cohan later explained, from an encounter he had with a Civil War veteran who fought at Gettysburg. The two men found themselves next to each other and Cohan noticed the vet held a carefully folded but ragged old flag. The man reportedly then turned to Cohan and said, “She’s a grand old rag.”
Cohan thought it was a great line and originally named his tune “You’re a Grand Old Rag.” So many groups and individuals objected to calling the flag a “rag,” however, that he “gave ’em what they wanted” and switched words, renaming the song “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
I speak from the wisdom of a long life. I first felt the vigor of wind on my multi-colored face when I unfurled my thirteen stars over 230 years ago. I have known 44 presidents and have traveled across continents, oceans and deserts… and on the surface of the moon.
I was there when my nation was born. I was in the hand of my first President in the blood and snow of Valley Forge. I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice. I stand for freedom.
I have earned the right to speak. The right paid for my freedom of speech is a price few remember or can comprehend. Most forget, but I still see in my memory those bright, beautiful young men, who died for me at Pork Chop Hill, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, the Coral Sea, Okinawa, Corrigidor, the jungles of Vietnam and in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . I have fought in every American battle of every war since 1776. . . . and when they died for me, I wrapped them in my love and draped my honor over their caskets.
Those who died for my right to speak in freedom are buried in the Flanders Field of France, the Punchbowl in Hawaii, in Arlington and Gettysburg and in many other places under the sun. I fly proudly over their graves at all of these places, praying that wars might end forever. I rise every morning to watch over the graves of our finest men whose years were short, but whose service was longer than we can ever measure.
Because of those brave American patriots I can fly atop the greatest buildings in the world. I can stand watch in America’s halls of justice. I fly majestically over institutions of learning and stand guard as the greatest power in the world. Stand up and see me. I am the most recognized symbol in the universe.
Yes, I am the American flag. More than one million three hundred thousand lives have been sacrificed to give me the right to speak. I have been burned, torn and trampled on the streets of countries I have helped set free. I have been stained, spit upon and defiled by my detractors. Yet there is no place on the face of this earth that knows greater freedom than my country.
Freedom to each man, woman and child, to choose his life’s work, to travel from state to state without passports, to attempt and succeed, to fail and not be cast in prison for failure.
Freedom to save and build a fortune you may give away at the end of your life to your family, friends or charity.
Freedom to speak, write, praise, question or criticize anyone, no matter how high his station or rank.
Freedom to worship or not to worship as the mind and heart dictate.
Freedom to borrow and build, to buy and sell, to make an honest profit in a free enterprise system.
Freedom to start your own business and become a capitalist, to create dignified job opportunities for people who want to know the pride of working for a living.
I am proud of the harvest of our land….. corn, wheat, cotton, apples, nuts cherries, oranges and peaches. I see the harvest of our 50 states, and I am proud, for we help feed the hungry of the world.
Be humble and be proud of our greatness. I am particularly humble and proud when I am torn into strips and used as bandages for my wounded comrades on the battlefield. . . or when I am flown at half-mast to honor my soldiers, or when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving parent at the grave of their fallen son or soldier. We stagger at the eternal debt we owe to the untold number of American Veteran’s who chose to set aside their personal ambitions and dreams to assure the well being of our nation.
Yes, be proud and be humble . . . . enough to know where your glory and greatness come from. I am called “Old Glory.” My glory is the freedom that I give to every man, woman and child living in America.
I am the world’s beacon of hope and liberty. . . . and all I can say is give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Yes, I am the American Flag. I am your flag. I am the flag of freedom.