... since the mid-1600s, the French family have served their country
To an eight-year old country boy, the 4th of July meant fireworks, a parade, and my grandparents coming all the way from Melrose for a special dinner in the middle of the week, instead of waiting for Sunday. And it meant that my mother would let me go barefoot; I'd walk gingerly for the rest of the week, too proud to complain.
But here is something more important: the 4th of July also means flags. On last month's Flag Day, June 14, the Boston Globe printed a feature article about the original Grand Old Flag, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem. This 30-by-42-foot Battle Flag was flying at Baltimore's Fort McHenry during a British attack in the war of 1812, to show for miles around that the Fort was still in American hands. This same flag was exhibited in Boston sixty-five years later in 1877 as the centerpiece of our very first Flag Day. At that time, pieces of the flag were cut out as souvenirs. As part of an $8,000,000 project, many of these pieces were recovered from Worcester, Salem, Philadelphia, Portland, and Baltimore. The largest piece still missing is one of the stars and part of one stripe, cut out many years before and given to Abraham Lincoln.
This all brings to mind a family heirloom; my brother has it now. This is an American flag from Civil War times. This flag was probably used at the funeral of some family-related Civil War veteran; we've forgotten who he was during the last century and a half. But what is remembered is that my grandfather was in the Civil War. (This is the other grandfather, not the one who loved the Red Sox.) George French was his name, born in 1843, too young to serve in combat, but one of the many under-age volunteers who helped with the supporting duties for training new recruits.
And George's great-grandfather, born in 1741, was in the Revolutionary War. All able-bodied men in Townsend were staunch Patriots, except for Reuben's cousin, who was a King's man. The town fathers considered the matter, and paid him a quiet visit one evening. After a brief and to-the-point conversation, he decided he'd better become a Patriot.
Reuben's grandfather, John, born 1670, did his part in the decade-long scrap between the Patriots, the English, the French, and the Iroquois Indians.
And John's grandfather, William, born in Halstead, England in 1603, arrived in Cambridge with his family on the ship "Defence" in 1635. He is listed as being a Lieutenant of the local Militia in Cambridge, defending the settlers against the Indians.
This history is not unusual; millions of Americans can testify to much the same. Instead, it gives to all Americans, and to all who wish us well, reasons to celebrate and give thanks for our Independence Day here in Melrose, Massachusetts, USA, and wherever else in the world we may be found, on this Independence Day, the 4th of July, 2001.
July 6, 2001