Waubeka, the Heart of Flag Day, Honors Tradition with Patriotic Parade

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At the heart of Wisconsin, lies a quaint, unincorporated town, Waubeka. Approximately 35 miles north of Milwaukee, this seemingly inconspicuous place unceasingly swells with pride each June, as it commemorates Flag Day, a holiday often overlooked by the vast expanse of the American populace.

Waubeka takes honor in this day in an exceptionally profound way. After all, the town asserts that it is the original cradle of Flag Day, a credit they attribute to a resilient school teacher of a one-room schoolhouse.

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A grand parade is held each year, where children gleefully collect candy thrown to them, their eyes wide with awe, as they witness the embodiment of their country’s history and reverence for Old Glory.

Flag Day, for those unfamiliar, marks the commemoration of June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress officially determined the composition of the nation’s flag. They resolved that it be adorned with thirteen stripes, alternating in red and white, with a union of thirteen stars enclosed within a blue field, docilely representing a new constellation.

This patriotic observance was finally declared a formal annual event when President Harry S. Truman signed it into law in 1949, following President Woodrow Wilson’s own proclamation in 1916.

The display of the flag is undeniably a central aspect of numerous American holidays, with Independence Day, on July 4th, usually grabbing the spotlight among them. But, as David Janik, a Waubeka-born and the second-generation president of the National Flag Day Foundation asserts, the flag’s significance warrants a day in its own honor.

One might ask, why Waubeka? The town owes this accolade to an inquisitive 18-year-old native, Bernard J. Cigrand, who, in 1885, began teaching at the Stony Hill School. On June 14 of that year, he passionately placed the flag in his inkwell and tasked his pupils to write an essay on what the flag signified to them. Though he left the following year for dental school in Chicago, his advocacy for a national day dedicated to the flag remained unyielding.

Cigrand saw his dream come to life in 1916 when Wilson issued his proclamation. Even though he passed away years later in 1932, Waubeka paid homage to Cigrand’s enduring advocacy, establishing the town’s Flag Day celebration in 1946, a tradition that runs strong to this day.

The title for ‘first’ Flag Day, however, has found challenges. Some contest that it was George Morris who first organized a Flag Day on June 14, 1861, with a program and prayers to support the Union Army during the Civil War. Others claim a Pittsburgh native, William T. Kerr, to be the “Father of Flag Day,” owing to his advocacy starting in 1888. Nonetheless, Congress passed a resolution in 2004 declaring Waubeka “the birthplace of Flag Day.”

As part of the celebration, Waubeka continues to host an annual essay contest, with entries pouring in from across the nation. The essays serve as a heartfelt tribute to all that the flag symbolizes, from unity and diversity to inclusivity and justice for all.

However, despite its rich history and profound meaning, Flag Day isn’t a federal holiday like Thanksgiving or Memorial Day, which generally entail a day off work. Government services remain open, mail is still delivered, and only Pennsylvania observes it as a state holiday.

Nevertheless, the honor of this day does not require extravagant backyard barbecues or a pause from daily life. In Waubeka, the fervor for the flag runs deep. As Janik affirmed, “The flag is the symbol of our country — it symbolizes individualism, success, loss, daring, chivalry. People need a compass to guide them, and the flag is a great compass.”