September 11, 1777: The Stars and Stripes First Go Into Battle

At the time of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon ten years ago today, there was endless speculation. Our friends in the media asked over and over what we did to offend the jihadists. And many asked about the significance of September 11th?

Some came forward with an explanation. You must look at things from their point of view. We learned then that September 11, 1683 a date when the Ottoman Turks were repelled from the Gates of Vienna and then began Islam's long period of decline. Possibly so, but most sources say that battle ended on September 12th.


I was reminded of the late Meg Greenfield's reaction to her fellow liberals endless searching for our enemies' motives, the ceaseless calls for understanding. Newsweek editor Greenfield was surely liberal, but she was sensible. Too many of her fellows, she wrote, if put in the stewpot, would try to see things from the cannibal chief's perspective.

Right you are, Meg!

Let's look at this day from Americans' perspective. I was thrilled to learn just this week that September 11th has an important meaning for all of us as Americans, quite apart from 9/11. And it's one that should shape our reaction to those terrorist attacks.

September 11, 1777 is reliably reported to have been the first time the Stars and Stripes were carried into battle. It was at Brandywine Creek, in Pennsylvania. Congress the previous June 14th had voted to adopt the Stars and Stripes as our nation's flag.

General George Washington's Continental Army lost the Battle of Brandywine, but our troops faced superior numbers of British regulars and fought hard and well. His Excellency was filled with praise for the performance of his hungry men.


If you see the shoulder patches on the uniforms of our troops today, you'll note that the Stars and Stripes appear in an unusual array. The Union of stars is on the upper right, instead of the upper left, as we normally see the flag displayed. I asked my young friend, Army Capt. Pete Hegseth, currently deployed to Afghanistan, why this was so. Capt. Hegseth, who bravely served in Samarra, Iraq with the 101st Airborne, and at Guantanamo Bay with the Minnesota National Guard, explained that that's how the colors look when they're advancing into battle.

The Stars and Stripes advancing against our enemies; George Washington leading us into battle. Now, there's a September 11th image I want to hold onto.

One way we can get to know the Father of Our Country all over again is to read Ron Chernow's new Pulitzer Prize-winning book, George Washington: A Life. Ron Chernow gives us a Washington of unsurpassed bravery. Washington rides right into the mouths of British cannon at Princeton. His young aide, Col. John Fitzgerald covers his face with his hat, knowing Washington will be killed. And then, when he sees his dauntless commander come charging out of the smoke, he is overcome with emotion and gives His Excellency his hand-a Continental high five!

Washington's courage, his justice, and his moral stature won over his men. Chernow gives us Private John Howland's account of bumping against the general on a stone bridge, as Washington faced advancing Hessians:

" was my fortune to be next [to] the west rail, and arriving at the end of the bridge rail, I was pressed against the shoulder of the general's horse and in contact with the general's boot. The horse stood as firm as the rider and seemed to understand that he was not to quit his post and station."

Ron Chernow's wonderful work presents us with a George Washington worthy of our deepest admiration, deserving of our enduring respect, and more: He gives us a Father of our Country we can love. I'll be listening to the audio version of Chernow's book as I drive in to Washington on Monday.

For all our troops bearing the Stars and Stripes on their shoulder patches, we at home can give them the strongest support. We can write to them, send CARE packages to them, and pray for them. And most of all, we can thank them and welcome them home at the end of their tours with a hearty Col. John Fitzgerald high five. God bless them all.