|Stars and Stripes fly at the cemetery this Sept. 11|
|Written by Darci Tomky|
Red, white and blue. The stars and stripes of Old Glory represent strength, justice, purity, courage and unity for the thousands of American citizens who proudly fly the flag. A whole new sense of pride for the American flag was adopted on Sept. 11 just eight years ago when the U.S. was attacked.
This year on Sept. 11, community members welcomed new American flags flying at half mast at the Holyoke cemetery.
Twenty-one flag poles line County Road 41 leading past the cemetery with poles marking every other cemetery pillar.
The flag pole project was the vision of the Millage family. Last Memorial Day, Mark Millage and his wife Marcia visited the cemetery in Broken Bow, Neb. They noticed the American flags leading to the entrance of the cemetery.
After Mark talked with his brother, Steve Millage, they agreed it would be a nice thing to have flags at the Holyoke cemetery. Steve noted the cemetery looked good anyway, but he liked the flag pole idea. Arrangements were made, approval was gained by the Holyoke Cemetery Board and the project was underway.
Members of the Millage family working on the flag poles included siblings Steve Millage and his wife Jan of Holyoke, Mark Millage and his wife Marcia of Castle Rock, Wayne Millage and his wife Nanette of Ft. Collins, Karen Milner and Ron Darrell of Sterling and Debbie Absmeier and her husband Jeff of Firestone as well as their mother Marie Millage of Holyoke.
Construction took place Sept. 3-4 when Mark brought his company’s equipment to Holyoke. They dug holes, put sand in the bottom for drainage and poured cement. A sleeve in the cement allowed them to simply drop in the flag poles. Each telescoping flag pole goes up to 20 feet.
While the Millages planned to debut the flags on Friday, Sept. 11, a funeral for Dale Anderson the day before provided a perfect opportunity to put up the flags early. Anderson was a cousin to the Millages, and certainly had a connection to the Stars and Stripes.
For years, Anderson would raise and lower flags at five locations in Holyoke. His flag-raising sessions included stops at First Christian Church, Masonic Hall, American Legion Hall, VFW Hall and the cemetery.
The former commander of American Legion Post 90, quartermaster of VFW Post 6482 and Army soldier simply liked to see flags flying and showed his patriotism by raising flags each day.
Holyoke’s cemetery will fly its flags on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day and Flag Day. The VFW and the American Legion will also try to fly the flags at every veteran’s funeral. While the Millages will be providing upkeep for the flags, Steve noted they are available to the public, and anyone interested should let him know if they wish to fly the flags.
So why 21 flags? The flags are symbolic of the 21 Gun Salute which has a history dating back centuries. And no, it isn’t because the year 1776 adds up to 21.
In early times, soldiers indicated peaceful intentions by demonstrating they were not going to use their weapons. For example, a ship would fire its cannon when entering a friendly port. The custom is universal and is not linked to a specific weapon or country.
Originally, warships fired seven gun salutes. Based on superstition, odd numbers were lucky, and the number seven was said to have mystical powers. Seven planets had been discovered, and the phases of the moon changed every seven days. Seven also has Biblical significance—God rested on the seventh day of creation among other special sevens in Biblical events.
Forts on land could store more gunpowder than ships, so they often fired three guns for every one shot fired afloat—hence the 21 gun salute. When the quality of gunpowder improved, ships joined the land batteries in the custom of a 21 gun salute.
Throughout the years, the gun salute system has changed considerably. At times, the number corresponded to the number of states in the Union. Monarchies could receive more guns than did republics, and at times stronger nations would compel weaker nations to salute first. Salutes with an even number of guns signaled the captain of the ship died on the voyage.
In the U.S. today, the 21 Gun Salute is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family and the president, ex-president and president-elect of the U.S. It is also fired at noon on the day of the funeral of a president, ex-president or president elect, on Washington’s birthday, Presidents Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.
The 21 flags at the cemetery also coincide with the traditions of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Tomb guard marches 21 steps down the mat behind the Tomb, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process.
In addition to the new row of 21 flags at the cemetery, the Stars and Stripes fly on 21 poles in the cemetery’s Avenue of Flags. These surround the circle where the American Legion platform is located. A unique gift from the late Philip and Frances White provided funds for these flags in 1986. A flag in the center of the circle as well as two at the entrance of the cemetery are flown in addition to those in the Avenue of Flags. The City of Holyoke raises these flags every Memorial Day.
Regardless of whether it’s the 21 Gun Salute or 21 American flags, it symbolizes honor, dignity, pride and respect for the United States.