It was overcast, with threatening clouds hanging overhead. The smell of fresh bread wafted by as a group of soldiers surrounded an American flag near the Patriot’s Pavilion park along South Main Street in Washington Thursday. The solemn mood was broken only by the clang of the flag’s hardware as it was lowered and replaced by a new one donated by Washington Rotary Club.
The bad weather didn’t deter anyone, as a group of 30 people gathered for the Changing of the Flag Ceremony in front of the Main Street Farmers Market.
The flag ceremony was held the day before Flag Day, which is celebrated today, June 14. Flag Day, though not a federal holiday, commemorates and honors the adoption of the U.S. Flag. The first flag was adopted by the Continental Congress June 14, 1777, and President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 to be National Flag Day in 1916. The holiday was established by an Act of Congress in 1949.
“We’re a very patriotic commonwealth,” said Lt. Col. John R. Pippy, a Pennsylvania National Guard officer and former state senator, as he addressed the crowd at the ceremony. He’s right. Pennsylvania boasts nearly 1 million military veterans.
“Words cannot tell you what it means to a soldier that you take the time to share the importance of the flag. … It helps sustains our men and women overseas,” Pippy said.
Washington Rotary Club also honored Army Spc. Christopher Siren and Sgt. Tanner J. Edwards at the ceremony. Siren was named Soldier of the Year, and Edwards was named the Non-Commissioned Officer Winner of the Milton Baker Award. The soldiers were given checks totaling $500. Edwards was unable to attend, but Siren took part in the ceremony.
The 27-year-old Pittsburgh resident said being a part of the Soldier of the Year competition was a lot of fun. “I was definitely surprised (to win),” he said. The competition starts at a company level, according to Siren, and a representative is selected. Then the representatives compete in boards, where they are tested on their knowledge and composure in stressful situations. A candidate is selected and then moves on in the competition.
Siren knew coming out of school that he wanted to do something with medicine, while still being “out there” where he was needed. Stationed in Pittsburgh, Siren is a combat medic. To Siren, the flag symbolizes a common vision. Despite what everyone does, with different jobs and at different places in their lives, Siren said, “(It’s) a singular thing we can all look forward to.”