Commentary by Steve Scroggins

When I heard about the heritage violation at the Augusta Riverwalk, like most people, my first reaction was anger. Then next it was realized that this was a violation of Georgia law. When it was decided to file a lawsuit against the City of Augusta, everyone pretty much saw it as a slam-dunk no-brainer, an open and shut case. We figured they’d stall and then put the flag back where it belongs before the case went to trial.

This is because we read the Georgia code 50-3-1 (see text below) and, in our minds, there was never a question that the flag display on the Riverwalk—depicting all the historical flags that ever claimed authority over Augusta—-was a monument and memorial to military personnel.

Other courts have stated:

"The

[United States] flag is itself a monument." [Emphasis added] [In Monroe v. State, 250 Ga. 30, 295 S.E.2d 512 (1982) a prosecution was brought under flag desecration statute.]

The City’s defense, in a nutshell, was their assertion that the flags on the Riverwalk did not constitute a monument or memorial to military service. That’s it. Looks like they brought a butter knife to a gun fight.

Surprise! Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale brought another butter knife and smeared it on even thicker. Wheale’s remarks about flags and the Riverwalk that directly apply are:

“Flags at the Bay Street Esplanade do not honor the past or present service of military personnel."

"Temporal proximity to armed conflict and a tenuous connection to military personnel who presumably lived during a certain period do not make a series of flags a memorial."

As Woody Highsmith points out in his commentary, who was it that brought the various flags to Augusta in the first place? DeSoto’s Spanish soldiers. French soldiers. English soldiers brought British flags and built and garrisoned Fort Augusta. General “Lighthorse Harry” Lee and his patriots brought the first 13-star U.S. flag. Georgia Militia brought their State flag when they seized the federal arsenal in Augusta after Georgia seceded in 1861.

Look at the official seal of the State of Georgia. This seal is visible on the 1956 Georgia flag and on the 2003 Perdue counterfeit flag. The Three columns representing the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial) support the overarching Constitution. And between those columns on the right is the guardian of Liberty, a soldier holding a sword.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. That was a concept of government put into practice as a ‘grand experiment’ by the Founding Fathers of our country. In all of history before and since, it has been the soldier who gave the various governing authorities the force of authority and who defended against any forces that would seize that authority and take possession of the land and all the people and property located thereon.

The significance of flags in military tradition and customs would be difficult to overstate. The flag’s importance is much more than a symbolic representation of the land, people, and principles for which one fights — the flag is a marker of territory, a proclamation of authority, a symbol of resistance, and its capture, lowering, or absence is an indicator of defeat.

The presence of the U.S. flag over Fort McHenry the morning after a British attack on Baltimore’s harbor in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to what is now America’s national anthem. (Ironically, Key’s son would later become a Confederate soldier and be held as a POW in Fort McHenry…"…in the home of the free.")

One of the best known military photographs in the world depicts U.S. Marines erecting a U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific during WWII. Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, photographs circulated by email showing the similarity of the firemen erecting U.S. flags over the rubble with the Marines on Suribachi.

Military traditions of using flags dates back to the earliest recorded history. There are numerous references in the Scripture to banners and flags.

In western cultures, a variety of unique military customs all revolve around the significance of flags. In particular, we should review the customs associated with military funerals and memorials to fallen soldiers.

As Jeff Davis points out in his commentary, the flag removed from the Riverwalk was the official flag of the CSA when General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was killed in 1863. The flag sent from Richmond to cover his casket was the Second National Flag, also known as the “Stainless Banner.”

As you’ll see below, there is symbolic meaning in every aspect of military ceremonies with respect to flags, particularly funerals and the folding of the flag. The folded flag is presented to the widows, mothers or other next of kin “as a token” of a grateful nation, as a memorial to the departed soldier’s service.

Flags are inextricably a part of memorials for soliders. The explanatory markers on the riverwalk flag terrace are there to explain the flags and the military/governmental entities they represent. The flags are a memorial to the governments and to the soldiers that gave them the force of authority and defended those government claims to juridiction over the Augusta area. There is no convincing argument to the contrary.

Lacking an argument with any logical merit, we might presume some form of bias or other motive behind the assertion that the flags on the Riverwalk are not memorials to military service. Perhaps Judge Wheale’s own words might reveal such a motive.

From the trial transcript:
"The Second National Flag is a symbol of hate, unfortunately."
–Judge Duncan Wheale

Such a bigoted statement of opinion can only come from ignorance of history or malicious sophistry. Which do you think it is? Can you say "viewpoint discrimination?" We see no movement to remove the U.S. flag from the Riverwalk despite its appearance in thousands of KKK photographs.

What would General Stonewall Jackson or his widow have to say about Wheale’s opinion of the flag that draped his casket?

U.S. Military custom includes a flag-folding ceremony and the following text is but an example of the meaning ascribed to the flag folding relevant to military service {bold emphasis throughout is mine}.

In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead.

The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.

The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.

Sources:
American Legion
www.usflag.org/foldflag.html
www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/folds.htm
Blue Jacket – U.S. Navy

Georgia Code 50-3-1 begins by describing and specifying the State Flag of Georgia in Section A. Section B, paragraphs 1 and 2 are the relevant parts quoted below {bold emphasis is mine}:

(b)(1) It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, corporation, or other entity to mutilate, deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously any publicly owned monument, plaque, marker, or memorial which is dedicated to, honors, or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state, the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof, and no officer, body, or representative of state or local government or any department, agency, authority, or instrumentality thereof shall remove or conceal from display any such monument, plaque, marker, or memorial for the purpose of preventing the visible display of the same. A violation of this paragraph shall constitute a misdemeanor.

(2) No publicly owned monument or memorial erected, constructed, created, or maintained on the public property of this state or its agencies, departments, authorities, or instrumentalities in honor of the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state, the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof shall be relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion; provided, however, that appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of such monuments or memorials shall not be prohibited.

On The Web: http://georgiaheritagecouncil.org/site2/commentary/scroggins-augusta-flags082506.phtml