Monday, July 7, 2014

Flags and the Fourth of July

    The U. S. flag is a big part of the Fourth of July maybe more than any other day of the year. People are out watching parades and waving old glory as veterans, kids on floats and marching bands return the salute with flags of their own.
     My day began and ended on Independence Day with some memorable flag photos. As I walked out the door of my home, I placed my flag in the holder and headed to work. Every couple of years, I get up early to photograph firemen Mark Gibson and Chip Smale hang a giant flag at High and Hanover Street for the Pottstown 4th parade. Gibson carefully got the flag out of the duffle bag and told me that he decides in the morning on parade day if the flag will fly or not. He watches for the wind and any precipitation that may fall.
Mark Gibson and Chip Smale hung flag over Pottstown for the parade.
     The men rode the tower ladder high over the downtown and meticulously attached the flag to a wire and unfurled it carefully as the centerpiece for the day. They don't take this task lightly not wanting to damage the flag on the important day.
      Patriotic colors are everywhere and people dress colorfully on the one day they wear their hearts on the sleeves. During the 5K race Daniel Harp sported an Uncle Sam hat. Residents will do unusual things like dress up in Captain America and Wonder Woman costumes as Eric Roberts and Bonnie Towell did. If you wore the same outfits on any other day in town unless you were going to Comic Con people may think you're a little weird, but on the 4th anything red, white and blues works.
      Wendy Cullinane lives in Ireland and flies her two daughters Sabine and Adriana back to the United States every year so that the girls can experience the parade and the celebration as she did growing up in Allentown.
     Every direction I turned during the parade was a sea of color. As the Vietnam veterans honor guard marched on High Street they stopped every couple of blocks and the leader of the group asked residents to stand and pledge to the flag.
     On Tuesday July 1st, I traveled to Gettysburg with friend and historian Mike Snyder for the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. We drove and walked around the battle fields as he offered detailed information at various spots throughout the day. At one location he spoke on three Federal soldiers ordered to retrieve the companies colors that were lost during battle with the Confederates. The three men encountered the enemy and fought them hand to hand to regain this important symbol of their unit.
     Snyder stated that during the fight one of the Union soldiers had one hand on the flag pole and with the other thrust a bayonet through the body of his adversary. More southern soldiers arrived at the fight and overwhelmed the three Yankees killing them. In the Civil War it was a high honor to carry the flag but it also made them a target as many guns would be aimed on the flag bearer. That was only one small piece of a battle that violently raged over three days.
       The story had an impact on me as I watched all the flags waving in the breeze during the parade. We sometimes forget our forefathers from the Revolutionary War to the current soldiers who continue the fight to keep freedom alive.
       Sadly that afternoon a home in Earl Township was destroyed by fire. The owners had a flag flying on the front of the building. With smoke billowing from the second story a fireman removed the charred and wet flag from the holder and placed it on a piece of burned furniture away from the home. From there other firemen moved it toward the fire trucks lining the road.
      I knew that the flag was an important photo for the story.  In all the commotion the firemen fighting the fire still had the presence of mind to remember how important it was to also to preserve this flag. Patiently, I waited for the moment that I could see a fireman with the flag.
     And then Amity fireman Craig T. Johnson respectfully lifted that flag and walked out from the fire scene. It only took seconds to snap several photos but I realized that on Independence Day this photo had taken on a special meaning.
Amity fireman Craig T. Johnson carries burned flag while fighting a house fire in Earl Township.
     Later that afternoon, when I completed editing and uploading all my daily photos for The Mercury and website, I transmitted the photo of the fireman carrying the burned flag out over Twitter. Within minutes other followers began to pick it up and retweet the picture. Johnson sent me a message and said that's me in the photo.
     I sent him this reply, "@WorldofNoise awesome effort out there today picture like that shows respect to the flag nice job. Johnson not only volunteers as a firefighter but I found out he was also a soldier in the Army. He sent me a powerful follow up message saying, "@MercPhotog thank you! As a soldier, I couldn't let the colors burn… but thought of all days it could be displayed…
      He put his life on the line defending the flag serving his country, the same way those poor Civil War heroes fought and died for theirs. I never thought Independence day would have such a moment like this.
     The day started with one perfect banner waving lightly over Pottstown and it ended with another flag though burned and discolored was just a beautiful. The 4th is a special day.

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