Monday, May 30, 2011

Don't Tread on Me

It's Memorial Day.  This is the day I like to make a post a bit off topic and recognize all the war fighters, not only in the US, but all across the world, that risk their lives to protect our freedoms.  The last post I did was about the can-do attitude of the Seabees.  This year, I thought about stepping back to the very beginnings, back to the very first people who fought for our freedom even before there was a Memorial Day.

The Gadsden Flag
The Gadsden Flag, an American Timber Rattlesnake coiled up on a yellow background (also known as the Hopkins flag), is used by units in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, but it was originally created by Christopher Gadsden in 1775.

In 1775 the British were occupying Boston and General Washington was holed up in Cambridge, low on gunpowder and supplies shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill.  The Continental Congress heard of a British transport on its way loaded with arms and gunpowder.  The rebels decided they needed the supplies more than the British and devised a plan to commandeer the transport.  The Continental Congress authorized the creation of the first Continental Navy and mustered five companies of Marines to take the ship.

Like all military groups at the time, battle drums were a part of the company.  Unique to some recruits from Pennsylvania, their drums were painted blaze yellow with a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike, painted on it.  The rattlesnake had 13 rattles, one representing each colony.  Also painted on the drums were the words "Don't Tread on Me."

Why the Snake?
The snake actually started much sooner.  Benjamin Franklin, not keen on using an eagle -- "a bird of bad moral character" -- as a national emblem instead chose the snake.

In the Pennsylvania Journal (Pennsylvania Gazette), Franklin concocted an image of a segmented snake with the words "Join, or Die."  It played on superstitions at the time that if you reassembled a cut-up snake before sunset, it would come back to live.  It portrayed the unity that the colonies had to have.  The image was so popular that it became the symbol of shared national identity.

As Benjamin Franklin described it
 "She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. ... she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."
Inevitably, the general serpent was replaced with an American Timber Rattler because of it's uniqueness to America.

Our military has a long and proud history.  That history started even before the United States was a country, yet is still symbolized every day in current conflicts.  When we fly these colors, we not only represent our current values, but the values of all of those who have come before us.
Remember our past, those who have sacrificed, and why they chose to bear arms for our freedom.
Recognize our present, those who continue to sacrifice, and the proud heritage they represent.
Pray for our future, those that come after us respect us for our decisions and recognize the sacrifices we made were for them.
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