Raising the flag on 4th of July

Sixty years ago today, the 49-star United States flag was lowered at Iolani Palace and replaced by one with 50 stars. Across the nation, the 50-star flag became the official United States flag.

Hawaii had gained statehood nearly a year earlier, on Aug. 21, 1959, by executive order of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The 49-star flag was used for exactly one year. Alaska was admitted into the Union on Jan. 3, 1959 and officially added to the flag on July 4, 1959.

As states have joined throughout the 244-year history of America, there have been 27 different arrangements of the stars. The current 50-star grid of five six-star rows and four five-star rows is the country’s longest-running flag. Coming in second is the 48-star flag, which was used 1912-59. That flag first officially flew on July 4, 1912 after two states, New Mexico and Arizona, were added.

The red, white and blue flag sometimes called “Old Glory” has come to stand for many different things throughout America and the world. At its best, it exemplifies ideals like: Freedom for all. The guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All people are created equal. Hope. Justice. The promise of a better life.

Tears roll down cheeks as it is raised while our National Anthem is played and one of our outstanding Olympic athletes holds a hand over their heart. From Little League to Major League diamonds, you can’t play ball until the flag is run up the flagpole.

Life is not all games, however, and our flag is not always seen in such positive light. For some, it stands for oppression and manifest destiny policies of exploitation and conquest. Look up “United States wars” and you will see that we have been engaged in one conflict or another for almost every Fourth of July since the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776.

This month the country’s streets have been awash in protest. Americans of color are so frustrated with their country’s policies and prejudices they risk their lives during a global pandemic to demand change. America in 2020 is far from standing united on issues ranging from climate science and LBGT rights to assault rifle ownership and Confederate symbols.  

The U.S. flag’s status is no less complicated here in Hawaii. There are kanaka maoli who want to restore the Hawaiian sovereign government overthrown by United States citizens in 1893. America has brought many changes to Hawaii and not all have been good for its people, its land or its resources.

There is no going back to alter the past or room to address every injustice here. All we can do as a country, as a state and as individuals is to learn from our mistakes and vow to do better, to make things right.

Whether it is flapping proudly in the breeze, printed on a box of fireworks or mounted to the back of a pickup truck upside down, we’re bound to see the flag today. It is there to remind us of the meteoric rise of our country, its vast potential, its heroes and grand successes. It is also there to remind us that, as a nation, we still have work to do.


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