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Allentown Flag Day ceremonies provide poignant patriotic images

Wherever one looked during ceremonies commemorating Flag Day June 14 at Allentown's West Park band shell, there were un-orchestrated reminders of the symbol and meaning of the American flag.

A reflective 99-year-old army veteran, Kenneth Earp, seated front-row center in a wheelchair with a small American flag clutched firmly to his chest.

What memories must have been going through the mind of a veteran who participated at Normandy in the Allied D-Day landing in Europe in June, 1944? That successful assault eventually led to the liberation of Europe from the scourge of Nazi terror.

The sights of hands over hearts and veterans saluting as the uniformed color guard of National Guard soldiers from the Allentown National Guard Armory presented the colors, and Staff Sgt. Trevor Knight planted the American flag in a stand at the left side of the band shell.

However, one display prompted by a freak wind gust stands out. During the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, a wind gust on an otherwise calm evening toppled the flag and stand.

In an instant, as the flag toppled, the main speaker, Col. Glenn Nissley, was on it, bringing the staff back to upright and resuming his salute.

With no prompting, Knight rushed the stage, placed his arm protectively around the flag staff and stood ramrod straight through the evening's program, assuring the banner would not fall again.

Knight's actions brought to mind the protective nature of America's flag through every battle our uniformed military has ever conducted under our country's banner of freedom.

Nissley, who was commander of Allentown's Gen. Curtis National Guard Armory from 2009 to 2012, recounted previous Flag Day ceremonies in Allentown and provided historical anecdotes of the flag and its significance to the Lehigh Valley.

He highlighted the fact that the Allentown Flag Day Association is the oldest in the country, dating back 106 years.

Nissley said he was humbled when he recalled others who have provided the Flag Day keynote in the Lehigh Valley. He recalled the 1922 Flag Day observance when General "Blackjack" Pershing drew 50,000 attendees.

Knight recounted how the flag has undergone many changes since the country's founding.

"Our first flag was the Grand Union Flag; it had 13 stripes and 13 stars, one star for each colony," Nissley said. "Since 1777, our flag has gone through 28 variants to its current appearance of 50 stars on a blue Union and 13 red and white alternating stripes."

Nissley noted Pennsylvania is the only state that recognizes Flag Day – June 14 – as a state holiday.

When he got personal, though, the real meaning of the American Flag to him became evident.

Nissley in 2005-2006 was the commander of more than 700 troops at Camp Viking, a forward operating base in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"There was nothing better to start the day than to see our flag flying in the breeze above our forward operating base. It gave us strength to face whatever the day had to offer," Nissley said.

With the flags waving, the patriotic red, white and blue attire among the attendees, and the stirring tunes of a patriotic concert by the great Allentown Band, it was evident it was not just another Friday evening in the Lehigh Valley.