The Cortez Elks Lodge presented an impressive Flag Day ceremony and community dinner Friday attended by nearly 200 people.
Lodge officials honored the history of the American Flag, explaining different versions leading up to today’s flag.
Local dignitaries, citizens, and veterans attended and gave patriotic and emotional speeches, including Navajo Code Talker Sam Sandoval, of Shiprock, New Mexico, who served in five combat tours as a U.S. Marine in World War II.
The new republic replaced the Flag of England in 1775 with the Pine Tree Flag carried by Continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Later that year a single flag was raised representing the 13 American colonies. Southern colonies used the Snake Flag from 1776 to 1777.
Subsequent versions of the national symbol were the Continental Colors flag, then Betsy Ross’ Stars and Stripes, which flew during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The style endured, with stripes set at 13 in 1818, and stars being added as more states were admitted in the union.
“The evolution of the American flag marks the progression of the government of the American people,” said an Elks Lodge official. “Our flag is at once a history, a declaration and a prophecy.”
During the program, the crowd joined in singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America,” and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. The POW-MIA flag was presented by Boy Scout Troop 255 recognizing prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
“In this observance of flag day, let us rededicate ourselves to the flag of the United States of America, and may the principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity increase in each of us,” a speaker said.
The code relied on the unwritten Navajo language to transmit U.S. military communications by phone and radio, and was never broken by the Japanese or Germans in World War II.
By devising code words in the Navajo language, the U.S. military also achieved a code-within-a code system. It was declassified by the Department of Defense in 1968.
“I became a Code Talker at age 18,” in 1942, said Sandoval, now 95. “The requirement was to be fluent in the Navajo language. I volunteered.”
He was one of the first Marines to land at Guam, and took messages to be decrypted into the code while in the field, he said.
Sandoval served five combat tours in the South Pacific, including the islands of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Pelelui, Guam and Okinawa. The first group of Code Talkers arrived at Guadalcanal.
“We were upfront where the fighting was, and would run the messages back to the rear echelon where the top officials were,” he said. “As Code Talkers, we always stayed in the best part of the Navy ship, with good food and good beds.”
“Tonight I am honored to be here for flag day,” Sandoval said to a standing ovation.
About 400 Navajos participated in the successful code program. It was a key factor for the U.S. winning many battles in the South Pacific, including Iwo Jima, where a famous raising of the American flag was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Sandoval said that happened after he returned home. In a report to the CIA, Major Howard Connor, signal officer of the Navajos at Iwo Jima, said, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”
Dolores artist Michelle Martin donated her painting “The Honoring” to the Cortez Elks Lodge. It depicts a World War II veteran saluting the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Martin was inspired to paint by a scene she witnessed during a long-ago visit.
“I was there that day,” the elderly veteran told her. He recited the names of the soldiers and recalled memories of “landing on the beach with a rain of fire coming down on us.”
“I painted this in memory of my precious son Spec. Joshua James Everin, the unknown soldier I met that night, and all of the men and women who have served and given all,” Martin said. “Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”
Five canvas prints of the painting that were hand embellished and glazed were auctioned during the event, raising more than $2,300 for local veteran assistance programs.
“It was a very special evening,” said event organizer Puff Bridgewater.