SPARTA, NJ- All of the elements were in place for the perfect Flag Day celebration on the plaza in front of the Sparta municipal building.  The only thing missing was the crowd. 

Past President Anthony Alfonso welcomed everyone remarking on the smaller than usual gathering.
“We the United States of America and the Benevolent Order of Elks will be stronger when this is all over,” Alfonso said.

Later in his remarks, Senator Steve Oroho echoed sentiments shared by Alfonso.  “This flag represents perseverance, courage and hope,” Oroho said.  “We will get through this [pandemic] because we have that [American flag] to look at.”

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Each year the Sparta Elks Lodge 2356 holds a Flag Day ceremony, something each lodge across the country is required to do.  For the past few years the event has been held at town hall.  Typically several local volunteer organizations and scout troops would be represented behind their own banners and flags.  The pandemic impacted even this program.

June 14, Flag Day, is rooted in the history of this country dating back to 1777 when the congress responded to a demand for a flag that represented America.  As explained in the Elks ceremony, Congress declared “that the Flag of the United States be 13 strips of alternating red and blue and that the union be 13 stars, white on a field of blue representing a new constellation.”

The pageantry of the event includes a visual display of the evolution of the American Flag, as the Exalted Ruler John Middleton and lodge officers told the story of each of the standards:

  • Pine Tree 1775 carried by the Continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • Snake Flag 1776-1777 used by the southern colonies
  • 1775 with 13 Red and white stripes and a red cross of St. George and white cross of St. Andrew on a blue field, flown on the Alfren by John Paul Jones December 3, 1775 and George Washington’s Cambridge Massachusetts headquarters
  • Continental Colors and Grand Union used by the Navy, first flag to receive an 11-gun salute of honor in the Dutch West Indies.
  • The Starry Banner, “generally believed in May or June of 1776 a committee consisting of George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross commissioned Betsey Ross a Philadelphia Quakeress, to make a flag” consisting of stars and stripes.  It was given its’ first official salute on February 18, 1778 by France.
  • 1795 two additional stars and stripes were added for Vermont and Kentucky having joined the union, the sight of which, flying over Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the “Star Spangled Banner.”
  • 1818 Congress resolved after July 4 the number of stripes would remain 13 and a star would be added for each state. This flag had 20 stars.
  • The flag was updated with 28 additional stars from 1818 to 1912. 
  • 1959 a star was added on July 4 for Alaska.
  • 1960 a star was added for Hawaii.

The flags were carried by:Sparta High School senior Jessica Fenners, Pope John High School senior Doug Fowler, Miriam Ungar from the Sparta Ambulance Squad, Master Sargent Rudy Bethmann from Sparta VFW, Pat Keegan and Jackie Gieske from Karen And Quinlan Hospice, Charlene O'Sullivan and Sharon Wright from Hackettstown Medical Center, Tom Wibbett from Stop and Shop and Bruce Faison from Quik Check.  

The National Anthem was sung by Theresa Pedoto.

Invited to the podium, Senator Steve Oroho echoed sentiments shared by Alfonso.  “This flag represents perseverance, courage and hope,” Oroho said.  “We will get through this [pandemic] because we have that [American flag] to look at.”

Freeholder Josh Hertzberg also addressed the “story of Old Glory.” He said, “It is more than just a flag.  It is a symbol of what is good.”

Hertzberg suggested that “instead of disrespecting this symbol of liberty we should think about the ideals it represents; freedom, liberty and equality.”

Sparta Mayor Jerry Murphy said, “Veterans have served under every one of these flags.”  He added, “ Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

A very large bear even attempted to attend the ceremony, strolling across the front lawn of the municipal building as people were assembling.

The new State President of the BOE in New Jersey Peggy Berry was making her first official appearance since taking office.  Past State President Alfonso took the opportunity to pass on the President’s badge during Monday’s event.

“Wear it proudly,” Alfonso said.  “And don’t lose it.” He said it is over 100 years old.

Berry read the “Response” portion of the program, explaining the significant times the American Flag has flown, in battle and other times of unity.

Alfonso shared the Response in its entirety:

The Stars and Stripes, Flag of the United States of America! The world -wide hope of all who, under God, would be free to live and do His will. 

Upon its folds is written the story of America — the epic of the mightiest and noblest in all history. 

In the days when peoples of the old world groveled in abject homage to the heresy of “the divine right of Kings,” a new constellation appeared in the western skies, the Stars and Stripes, symbolizing the divine right of all to life, liberty, happiness and peace under endowment by their Creator. 

To what man or woman is given words adequate to tell the story of the building of this nation? That immortal story is written in blood and sweat, in heroic deeds and unremitting toil, in clearing the primeval forests and in planting of vast prairies where once the coyote and buffalo roamed. Onward swept the nation, spanning wide rivers, leaping vast mountain ranges, leaving in its path villages and farms, factories and cities, till at last this giant nation stood astride the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

This is the heritage of the people of the United States. It has been repurchased by each succeeding generation and must be re-won again, again and again until the end of time, lest it too shall pass like the ancient Empires of Greece and Rome. 

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” What was won at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill had to be repurchased at Ticonderoga and Yorktown. 

What John Paul Jones achieved upon the high seas in the War of Independence had to be repurchased by Commodore Perry on Lake Erie in the War of 1812. 

The prestige of Admiral Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay in 1898 was re-won by the naval battles in the seas about the far‐distant islands of the Pacific, after the sneak attacks upon Pearl Harbor and Manila in 1941 had summoned our country to assume its role in World War II. 

What our troops achieved under the Stars and Stripes at Chateau -Thierry and Flanders in World War I, their sons were required to repurchase in World War II in the bloody trek across northern Africa, on the beachheads of Europe and in the Battle of the Bulge. 

The Flag our American men raised at Iwo Jima was the same Flag later raised in the defense of Inchon, Pusan and Pork Chop Hill in far -off Korea. Then another generation under the same Flag bled to stem the threat of communism in far -off Vietnam. 

Our young people were again called to carry our Flag in the defense of a free world in the actions in Grenada and Panama. Willingly, our brave men and women carried our Flag and the honor of the American people into battle in Operation Desert Storm. 

 And who among us will ever forget the sight of firefighters raising our Flag over the ruins of the World Trade Center, the military personnel draping our Flag on the side of the Pentagon, or the citizens of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, placing our Flag near the site where brave Americans died fighting the hijackers of Flight No. 93? No other symbol could have offered such comfort, as we still, today, endure the horrors of that day. 

Today, American Armed Forces carry our Flag in the villages of Iraq, the mountains of Afghanistan and the jungles of the Philippines and wherever terrorism may reside. Their struggle against the sponsors of terrorism is the hardest battle yet, and this threat to our Nation, and to our way of life, is certainly as great a challenge as our Flag has ever seen. 

The resurgence of patriotism since September 11, 2001, has rekindled respect for our Flag. Today, we see the Star Spangled Banner wherever we turn, on homes, businesses, automobiles and billboards. Such displays stimulate our love for our Nation and for what it stands; they remind us of the sacrifices being made by the men and women of our Armed Forces around the world; and, they are a tribute to the heroes of the Police and Fire Departments the Nation over. 

The greatest significance of this Flag, however, lies in the influence it has in the hearts and minds of millions of people. It has waved over the unparalleled progress of a nation in developing democratic institutions, scientific and technological knowledge, education and culture. It has served as a beacon for millions of poor and oppressed refugees abroad and stands as a promise that the under -privileged will not be forgotten. 

What is the meaning of the Flag of the United States? There can never be a definitive answer to that question. There are people in this world who see it as a symbol of imperialism; others see it as a destiny of the people. But reference to these and similar views of the Flag was resolved by Woodrow Wilson when he said: “This Flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and shape of this nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours.” 

Only love, true love of our fellow man, can create peace. The emblem and token of that love is the Stars and Stripes, the symbol of the American way of life.”

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