July 20, 2024

Honoring Our Confederate Heritage & Virtues

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30 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Flags

Vibrant flags of the world image

To those who fly them, flags have deep meaning and represent a vast array of things. Each flag has a story behind it, and I’m going to fill you in on some fun facts about a few of them.

Did you know…

1. According to the Flag Code, the American flag should never be used for advertisement purposes in any manner whatsoever. 

Obviously this rule is often overlooked in as much as it violates the Constitution guarantee of free speech (expression)…

2. The Filipino flag is flown with the red stripe up in times of war and with the blue stripe down in times of peace.

Filipino Flag

   

3. The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was published in magazines to sell American flags to public schools.

american flag in classrooom

In 1892, James B. Upham conceived the notion of capitalizing on the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas as an opportunity to boost the sales of American flags to public schools. To achieve this, a magazine proposed a nationwide initiative known as the Columbian Public School Celebration, synchronizing with the World’s Columbian Exposition. As an integral element of the official program for the Columbus Day festivities taking place in schools across the nation, a flag salute became a requisite. This strategy aimed to ensure that every school acquired an American flag for the occasion.

4. Each of the Apollo missions to the moon planted an American flag in the soil.

The Apollo astronauts’ flags on the moon are a subject of great interest and speculation. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong planted the first American flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, but Aldrin observed it falling over from the exhaust of the Lunar Module during takeoff. However, the fate of the flags from the subsequent Apollo missions has been more enduring.

The flags, made from regular nylon and purchased from a government supply catalog, were not designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the moon. The lunar environment is extreme, with temperatures swinging from approximately 242°F during the day to -280°F at night. Additionally, the flags were subjected to unfiltered ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, which is much more intense on the moon than on Earth. Over time, this radiation can cause colors to fade and materials to disintegrate. Experts like Dr. Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera, have expressed skepticism about the flags’ survival, suggesting they might be in rough shape if they still exist at all.

Historian Anne Platoff noted that the Apollo 11 and 12 flags likely did not survive the ignition gases from the lunar liftoff. She also mentioned that the flags were intended only to be present during the moon landings and departures, not to endure the lunar environment indefinitely. Paul Spudis, a lunar scientist, indicated that the intense UV radiation and temperature extremes could have bleached and disintegrated the flags over time.

However, images captured by the LRO suggest that flags from some of the Apollo missions are still standing. These images show shadows cast by the flagpoles at the Apollo landing sites, except for Apollo 11. The exact condition of the flags is not clear from the images, but the presence of shadows indicates that the flagpoles, at least, are still upright. Prof. Mark Robinson of the LRO Camera team expressed surprise that the flags had survived the harsh conditions, although he speculated that they might be badly faded.

In summary, while the Apollo flags have likely been severely degraded by the extreme conditions on the moon, including intense UV radiation, extreme temperatures, and micro-meteor impacts, evidence suggests that some of the flags, apart from the one planted by Apollo 11, are still standing. Their current condition is likely far from their original state, with possible discoloration, fading, and fraying due to the harsh lunar environment【6†source】【7†source】【8†source】.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. Flag.
Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. Flag.

5. American flags on airplanes and uniforms are often “backwards.” 

In various contexts, such as on aircraft and military uniforms, the American flag is displayed in a specific manner to simulate the effect of it flying in the breeze. Generally, the flag is positioned with its union (the blue field with stars) leading, resembling the way it would naturally flow in the wind. On the left side of an airplane, the flag appears in its standard orientation, with the union on the left. However, on the right side of the plane, a different version, often called a “right flag,” “reversed field flag,” or “reverse flag,” is used. In this version, the union is on the right side. This arrangement creates the visual impression that the flag is streaming backwards as the plane moves forward. This concept is also applied to vehicles like cars and trucks, and it’s notably seen on the uniforms of American soldiers, where the flag is arranged to give the appearance of it billowing in the wind as the wearer moves forward.

soldier flag

6. The first Olympic flag went missing for 77 years

The mysterious disappearance of the Olympic flag following the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium, remained an unsolved enigma for 77 years. This intriguing piece of Olympic history took a surprising turn when Hal Haig “Harry” Prieste (1893-2001), a participant in those Games, made a startling revelation. Prieste confessed that he had spirited away the flag on a whim, prompted by a playful dare during the event. The flag, a symbol of unity and global sportsmanship, had inadvertently embarked on an extended secret journey, tucked away in the confines of Prieste’s suitcase. For decades, this cherished emblem of the Olympics lay hidden, its whereabouts unknown to the world, until Prieste, in a remarkable twist, disclosed its long-held secret, reconnecting this historic artifact with its rightful legacy.

7. The flag of Nepal is the only non-rectangular flag representing a country.

Nepal Flag

The flag of Nepal stands out in the world of national symbols due to its distinctive shape. Unlike the traditional rectangular flags of other nations, Nepal’s flag is a unique configuration of two stacked triangles. This intriguing design not only sets it apart visually but also holds deep cultural and historical significance. The flag’s origins can be traced back hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest national flags in existence. Its non-rectangular form is a reflection of Nepal’s rich heritage and distinct identity, distinguishing it in the global arena of national emblems.

The symbolism embedded in the Nepalese flag is as rich as its history. The two triangles symbolize the Himalayan Mountains, reflecting Nepal’s rugged and mountainous terrain, and are also thought to represent the two major religions of the nation, Hinduism and Buddhism. The flag’s crimson red color symbolizes the bravery of the Nepalese people, while the blue border represents peace and harmony. Within the two triangles are featured a moon and a sun, which have their own significant meanings. The moon symbolizes the cool weather of the Himalayas, whereas the sun represents the heat and high temperature of the southern lowlands. Together, these elements encapsulate the diverse geographical and cultural landscape of Nepal.

Furthermore, the flag’s unique shape has practical implications in terms of its construction and protocol. The flag’s proportions and the method of drawing it are defined by a complex set of geometric rules, making it one of the most mathematically intricate national flags. The protocol for folding the flag is also unique, differing significantly from the rectangular flags of other nations. As such, the flag of Nepal is not just a symbol of national pride and identity, but also a testament to the country’s reverence for tradition, precision, and attention to detail. Its singular design serves as a reminder of the country’s unique place in the world, both geographically and culturally.

8. During truce talks between North and South Korea, both parties would try to bring a bigger national flag than the other to each meeting.

Tallest Flag Pole

During the prolonged negotiations between North and South Korea, an unusual competition emerged, centered not on the talks themselves, but on the size of their national flags. Each meeting was marked by an escalating display of national pride, with both sides attempting to outdo the other by bringing an increasingly larger flag. This symbolic contest escalated to the point where the meeting room could no longer accommodate the massive flags. This prompted the need for a special meeting, not to discuss the intricacies of the truce, but to address the practical issue of the oversized flags.

In this extraordinary display of one-upmanship, the construction of increasingly taller flagpoles became a focal point of nationalistic rivalry. This race reached its zenith with North Korea establishing a formidable record. They erected what is currently recognized as the tallest flagpole in the world, a towering structure measuring 525 feet in height. The North Korean flag that adorns this pole is a colossal symbol in itself, with the fabric of the flag reported to weigh a staggering 600 pounds. This monumental achievement in flagpole engineering stands as a testament to the lengths the two nations went in their pursuit of symbolic dominance during the truce talks.

9. Lichtenstein and Haiti once had identical national flags.

Interestingly, no one realized that Lichtenstein and Haiti had identical flags until the two countries competed against each other in the 1936 Summer Olympics under the same flag.

In 1937, Liechtenstein altered its flag to include a prince’s crown to distinguish it from Haiti’s flag.

10. In 1906, Irish Olympic silver medalist Peter O’Connor climbed a 20-foot flag pole and waved the Irish flag when made to compete for Britain.

Meanwhile, Irish and Irish-American athletes fought off guards at the bottom of the pole. 

11. Atomic blasts caused by the U.S. are represented on Bikini Atoll’s Flag

There is a little island called Bikini Atoll out in the Pacific Ocean which is about 2,650 miles southeast from the Hawaiian Islands. The appearance of its flag is similar to the USA flag but it has an especially unique story behind it.

The 23 white stripes on the flag represent the islands that make up Bikini Atoll. The three black stars in the upper right represent the islands that were vaporized by the March 1, 1954, 15 megaton hydrogen bomb that was fired by the USA. The two black stars in the lower right hand corner represent where the Bikinians currently live — Kili Island (425 miles to the south of Bikini Atoll) and Ejit Island of Majuro Atoll.

bikini atoll 2

The Marshallese words running across the bottom of the flag, “MEN OTEMJEJ REJ ILO BEIN ANIJ” translate to “Everything is in the hands of God.” This statement represent the words spoken in 1946 by the Bikinian leader, Juda, to U.S. Commodore Ben Wyatt when the Americans went to Bikini to ask the islanders — on a Sunday after church — to give up their islands for the ‘good of all mankind.’ The U.S. intended on testing nuclear weapons on the islands.

The close resemblance of the Bikinian’s flag to the U.S. flag is to remind the people and the government of America that a great debt is still owed by U.S. to the people of Bikini.

 

12. Hawaii’s state flag features the Union Jack (flag of the UK) and is the only U.S. State flag to do so. 

Hawaii Flag

13. The Union Flag originated from the union of the crowns, not the union of the countries, so if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, the Union Flag does not have to change.

Union Flags 2

14. When a foreign dignitary stays at the Blair House (which is essentially the White House’s guest house), their national flag is flown over the premises and the area is considered foreign soil. 

Map of where blair house is located

15. The U.S. is the only country that does not dip its flag to the host country at the Olympics’ opening ceremonies.

When the U.S. flag-holder was asked to dip his flag for King Edward VII at the 1908 London games, he supposedly responded, “This flag dips to no earthly king.” 

16. Texas is the only state where citizens also pledge allegiance to the state flag. 

Texas Flag

17. The Boy Scouts burn the most U.S. flags than anyone in the World

It turns out, the Boy Scouts are actually showing respect for the flag when they set it to flames. According to the Flag Code, burning is considered the most respected way to dispose of a worn out flag. 

Boyscout Burning Flag


Scouting.org

18. The Virginia state flag is the only U.S. state flag to feature nudity. 

19. In Denmark, it is illegal to burn foreign flags but not illegal to burn the Danish flag. 

20. Denmark’s flag is the oldest flag currently in use

Denmark designed its flag in 1219 and it’s remained unchanged ever since. 

Denmark Flag

21. The flags of Australia and New Zealand are so similar that the Prime Minister of Australia was greeted with the flag of New Zealand on a 1984 state visit to Canada. 

22. The words “Allahu Akbar” (translation: God is the greatest) are repeated 22 times on Iran’s flag. 

Iran Flag

23. At one point, the Nazi flag actually helped to save lives.

John Rabe, a member of the Nazi Party, prevented the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians at the hands of the Japanese by setting up a refugee zone under a Nazi flag.

24. The first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor earned it by protecting the flag.

In the Civil War, Sgt. William Harvey Carney refused to let the American flag touch the ground, despite being shot in the face, shoulders, arms, and legs. He later recovered from the wounds he received and earned the Medal of Honor for his vigilance.

25. The flag of Mozambique has an AK-47 on it and is the only flag in the world to display a modern weapon. 

Mozambique Flag

26. A Mexican city holds the title of having the largest flag flown from a flag pole. 

On December 2nd, 2011, the city of Piedras Negras in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico flew a national flag measuring 34.3m x 60m (112ft 6.39in x 196ft 10.2in) — the largest flag ever to fly on a flag pole. 

27. Libya’s new flag is actually retro.

Libya’s gone through many flag changes over the years, and, at one point, even had what many would consider the most boring flag in the world — a solid rectangle of green. Its newest flag is actually a throwback to the flag which originally represented the Kingdom of Libya. The Kingdom of Libya existed from 1951 to 1969 until a group of military officers led by Col. Muammar Qaddafi overthrew the government.

A Libyan anti-Kadhafi protester waves his old national flag during a demonstration in the eastern port city of Benghazi on February 26, 2011 as the country witnesses political turmoil and an insurrection against Moamer Kadhafi's crumbling regime. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

28. The Friesland flag in the Netherlands shows seven lily leaves.

The leaves on the Friesland flag represent the seven old Frisian sea lands as they existed from around the 8th until the 14th century:

29. The American flag’s red, white, and blue colors did not have significance when it was adopted in 1777.

Although the colors on the flag didn’t have specific meaning, those on the Great Seal did. When reporting to Congress on the Seal, Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, stated:

“The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, red, hardiness and valor, and blue, the color of the chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.”

30. It’s tradition to bury a war veteran with a flag.

War veterans are commonly buried with small flags, and if specially requested, they may be buried with his or her body wrapped in the flag.

U.S. Navy sailors and Marines carry a casket during a burial at sea ceremony for three U.S. Navy veterans aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island. Whidbey Island is deployed as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Desiree D. Green)