SOMERVILLE, NJ - They are perhaps the most patriotic Americans you’ll find in any community.
See for yourself on Friday, June 15, when the Somerville Elks Lodge #1068 hosts a Flag Day Festival and Country/Western music concert on the lawn surrounding the historic Somerset County Courthouse on East Main Street from 5-8:30 p.m.
Look for a guy wearing a shirt emblazoned with the American flag, probably a hat, too.
Michael Minaides is chair of the Elks' Flag Day Committee. Helping out are Mike Torralbas, Sponsorship chair; John Fabiano, Veteran’s chair and a US Navy veteran, and Takeena Deas, Partnership chair.
The mission of Flag Day Festival,according to Minaides, "is to revitalize the Flag Day tradition with an entertaining celebration that delights children, unites people, and instills pride in our flag.
"Flag day is not about politics," Minaides said. "It’s about pride."
Businessmen; police officers; Main Street business owners; lawyers, doctors, accountants, government employees; retirees – all belong to The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, a national service organization that dates to 1868, with close to 1 million members across the USA.
There are some who say that the organization’s acronym - BPOE – also is representative of the “Best People on Earth.”
The underlying principle guiding the Elks is patriotism and respect for the American flag and the veterans who served in the military.
"The Elks are a very patriotic organization, they have an Americanism committee, they support veterans, the flag; it really is a perfect fit to do this through the Elks," Minaides said.
Its members pledge that "So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them,”
The Elks were instrumental in establishing June 14 as Flag Day in 1949, when President Harry Truman, a member of the Elks, signed a proclamation establishing the annual national observance.
"Flag Day is not about politics. It’s about pride," said Minaides, an attorney with AT&T. "This is really about looking at the younger generation; they don’t have quite the amount of appreciation, the emotional connection as do older people.
"Whatever your politics are. we have to love our country and support our country." Minaides continued. "We should all feel the same pride when the flag passes by; we can diverge when it comes to politics but we should all be connected by that pride in our flag. Ijf everyone had that shared appreciation for the flag, it would help the entire country to get along."
Minaides is married with 2 children; the family lives in Bridgewater.
The Flag Day Country Music Festival features “Big Hix,” a country/western tribute cover band that takes the stage at 7 p.m. for a free 90-minute concert, performing songs by Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert and other contemporary Nashville stars, as well as choice old-school classics from the golden age of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.
Donations for care packages that will be shipped to U.S. troops deployed overseas will be collected by volunteers from Operation Shoebox New Jersey, a non-profit volunteer organization based in Somerville and Hillsborough that has shipped more than 140,000 care packages overseas since 2005.
As part of its ongoing fund raising efforts, OPSHBX NJ will sell prints of a 91-year-old oil painting depicting the American Eagle and 48-star American flag. Measuring 16 34-by-24 inches, the original painting was done in 1927 by Gerard F. Hirsch, the father of OPSHBX NJ founder Rod Hirsch, when he was 11 years old.
Now in its fifth year, the festival will also feature vintage fire trucks, military vehicles, re-enactors from eras past, a scavenger hunt, games, food vendors, Boy Scouts, a few speeches from elected officials, topped off by a big crowd and a giant American flag waving in the wind over Main Street and you’ve got all the ingredients for a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
The annual celebration begins on a serious note, with a Naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens living in Somerset County on the steps of the courthouse. There will also be an interactive scavenger hunt for children to find prizes among the exhibitors, and they will also be entertained by carnival style games and activities hosted by the Somerville/Bridgewater YMCA and others.
That will be followed by a Flag Day ceremony conducted by members of Somerville Elks Lodge #1068, with more flag ceremonies, a salute to U.S. veterans and a re-enactment of U.S. Marines planting the American flag on Mt. Suribachi, Feb. 23, 1945, on the Japanese-held Pacific island of Iwo Jima in the closing days of World War II.
Re-enactors from the Revolutionary War and Civil War will also mix with the crowd during the celebration. The Boy Scouts of America, Raritan Valley District, will be hosting a class for scouts to earn the American Heritage Merit Badge on the courthouse grounds, but advance registration is required.
Further information about the Flag Day celebration and a list of items that can donated for the care packages can be found online at FlagDayFestival.org