FALLS TOWNSHIP >> At a time when patriotism is under fire across the nation, from flags being burned to statues of the nation’s founders being toppled, the Fairless Hills Elks Lodge No. 2023 paused on Sunday, June 14 to celebrate Old Glory’s birthday with a patriotic salute to its meaning and to its history.
“The purpose of this service is to honor our country’s flag, to celebrate the anniversary of its birth and to recall the achievements obtained beneath its folds,” said Exalted Ruler Adam Buck in opening the ceremony held in the parking lot of the lodge’s home on West Bridge Street. “It is quite appropriate that such a service be held by the Order of the Elks, an organization that is distinctively American, intensely patriotic and without counterpart.
“Charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity are the cardinal principles of our organization,” continued Buck. “They are exemplified in all of our services. By them we teach love of country, love of our countrymen and loyalty to our American way of life. To be an Elk is to be an American citizen who lives for their country and is ready to die for it.”
The observance, punctuated by patriotic songs and readings, opened with a prayer by Chaplain and Past Exalted Ruler Fred Warren.
The program continued with the history of the flag, depicting the evolution of the banner from the Pine Tree Flag that flew over the Battle of Bunker Hill and on Colonial merchant ships dating back to 1686 to today’s 50-star, 13 stripe Star Spangled Banner last changed in 1959 with the addition of the 49th and 50th stars representing the admittance to the union of Alaska and Hawaii.
Each flag was carried by members of the Elks, posted and given a salute as Past Exalted Ruler Lydia Devlin described each banner’s position of honor in American history.
Today’s 50-star banner along with the POW/MIA flag representing prisoners of war and soldiers still missing in action were raised above the gathering on the lodge’s towering flagpoles.
As the flag was hoisted up the pole, the gathering joined in singing the The Star-Spangled Banner, penned by Francis Scott Key and inspired by the attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
“Our flag is a history, a declaration and a prophecy that represents the American nation and its birth. It speaks for what it is today and it holds opportunity for the future to add other stars to its glorious constellation,” said Buck, adding that the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is the first and only fraternal organization to require formal observance of Flag Day.
U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick delivered this year’s Flag Day address thanking the Elks for continuing to mark the day with an observance and commending the people who came out during a pandemic to honor the flag.
“My favorite image of the flag happened right here in our community and it was Christmas night in 1776,” said Fitzpatrick, referring to George Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware River and his surprise attack on the Hessians encamped at Trenton.
Nearly a century later, Fitzpatrick said a young German immigrant named Emanuel Leutze captured the “turning point in history” in a dramatic painting depicting Washington standing tall on a boat, a flag prominently displayed behind him as 13 oarsmen push the boat forward through a river of ice.
“He wasn’t an eyewitness, but what he painted was what he thought the story of America was and what he thought the American flag represented to him,” said Fitzpatrick of Leutze.
Leutze included 13 people in the boat representing the 13 original colonies, said Fitzpatrick. “And if you look at that painting and the people inside the boat you have an African American, you have a Native American, you have a woman, a Scotsman, a farmer. Look at everyone who is represented in that boat.
“What Emanuel Leutze said was that the American flag and the country of America was more than a country to him. It was an idea,” said Fitzpatrick. “And his idea of America was people from all different backgrounds, all in the same boat, all rowing in the same direction. That’s what America meant to this young German immigrant and that’s what the flag meant to him. And that’s the flag we continue to honor today.”
The Elks also used the occasion to honor a number of community and lodge members with scholarships and special recognitions.
The lodge surprised longtime member H. Eugene Howard with its 2019-20 Elk of the Year Award. Gene has been a member of the lodge for 38 years, attends all rituals and is always willing to fill in when needed.
The lodge next presented its Officer of the Year Award to secretary and past Exalted Ruler Peg Smith.
And the lodge presented its Citizen of the Year Award to JoAnn Panzitta-Gigliotti of Morrisville “for her outstanding devotion, dedication and volunteerism in the community.”
In addition, Southeast District Elks President Fred Warren presented the lodge’s 2019-20 scholarship awards to three students to assist them as they continue their educations.
The Theodore Ramsey Scholarship went to Emily Logue, a 2020 graduate of Conwell-Egan High School. She will be attending Penn State and pursuing a degree in film and photography.
The James H. Sharp Memorial Scholarship award went to Sutirth Mannikeri, a Pennsbury High School graduate who will be attending Union- Albany Medical College on an eight year program in medicine. From the fifth to the eighth grades, he was a winner of the Elks’ Americanism essay contests.
And the winner of the Irv Dost Memorial Scholarship is Peter Thomas Wetherill, the grandson of Past Exalted Ruler Lydia Devlin. He is a graduate of ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and will be attending Plymouth State University where he will be majoring in sports medicine.
The ceremony concluded with Taps played by bugler Bob Crosset, a U.S. Navy veteran and a member of the Guardians of the Washington Crossing National Cemetery.