The Two Flags

Posted in: history by bill-o on December 04, 2010

Shadows and Symbols had the opportunity recently to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) in Quantico, Virginia, USA. (Quantico is a Marine Corps Base (MCBQ) that is located about 50 miles south of Washington, D.C.) The 4-year old museum is now one of the premier sites for military history in the United States. As of this past summer, the museum now includes exhibits based on the entire history of the USMC.

As I walked through the World War II (Second World War) exhibit of the museum, I turned a corner and encountered quite a surprise. I entered the room where the first American flag that had been raised on Mount Surabachi was prominently on display in a glass-enclosed case with a black background. Shocked to see such an American national treasure right in front of me with no other tourists in the room at that time, a museum guide, apparently posted exclusively for that particular room, explained to me the history of the flag, as well as the second flag raised later on that day.

For Americans as a whole, and for the Marine Corps (USMC) in particular, the flag raising on the western Pacific Island of Iwo Jima remains an enduring symbol of perseverance in the face of an enemy determined to kill or die trying. It’s memory is etched in stone at the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia. The Battle of Iwo Jima cost the lives of over 6,800 marines to secure the 8 square mile (21 square km) island. The raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima’s only prominent mountain marked the symbolic taking of the high ground on that island.

Many Americans don’t realize that there were actually two flags raised on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. This second flag is the one that was photographed, filmed, and formed into the Iwo Jima Memorial.¬†Evidently, the NMMC does not display both flags at any one time. The day that I went, the first flag was on display. A few months from now, the second one will be returned to the same display and the first flag will be placed back into storage. The guide told me that the museum would like to eventually find a way to display both flags at the same time.¬†For me, both flags are enduring symbols of a hard-won victory.

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New Beginnings

Posted in: Uncategorized by bill-o on June 02, 2010

Don’t despair.

If you’re in a place in your life where you’re not sure where to go next: first and foremost, don’t despair.

Perhaps you’re at a stage where you know that change needs to come,- but you’re not quite sure what to do about it. Yet first of all,- be at peace.

The former things are but shadows and symbols of what lies ahead for each of us. They are harbingers of the new beginnings. New thoughts, new ideas, and new loves- sprouting up to greet us all.

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Symbolic Height

Posted in: history by bill-o on May 24, 2010

For more than 150 years, the insignia of rank for officers in the United States military has consisted of stars, eagles, oak leaves, and bars. Veterans and current service members are well aware of these insignia and their significance as per authority and responsibility. These insignia is also where the past meets the present: History buffs of the American Civil War can see the same insignia for the same ranks on the officer uniforms from the Civil War Era as they would see on military uniforms today (with the exception of the gold insignia as discussed in a moment …). Insignia are living symbols, tying the officers today to the rich military tradition of the past.

What many people may not be aware of is that the origin of these symbols is not entirely clear. We do know that the gold insignia (2nd lieutenant and major in the U.S. Army, USAF, and USMC), as opposed to silver with all of the others, came after the Civil War in order to give these two ranks specific insignia like all of the other officers. We also know the years in which colonels received their eagles and captains and 1st lieutenants their bars. What we don’t know is the exact origin of the stars, eagles, oak leaves, and bars.

Yet a simple examination of the insignia, taken together as a whole, gives the right context for us. The highest ranks are the generals and admirals who wear stars. The more stars, the higher the rank. Stars are high up in the night sky. Multiple stars form constellations. Eagles, the rank of colonels, soar high above most other birds, but they are less high than the stars, of course. Oak leaves are next down the list of ranks, and leaves are the highest and most visible part of any tree. The remaining ranks consist of bars, which could be comparable to branches, the part of the tree that is lower and less visible than its leaves.

It’s this “symbolic height” that can give even the casual observer a sense of the rank of each officer.