Honoring the American Flag Day on Flag Day – Flag Day is celebrated annually on June 14 to commemorate the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. Over 100 years later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of that decree by officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day.
What better way to honor the American flag today than to remember and honor the first of only 88 black American soldiers to earn the Medal of Honor – Army Sgt. William H. Carney. Technically, he wasn’t the first black soldier to receive the medal, since it wasn’t awarded to him until 1900, but his actions in 1863 were the first to earn it.
Carny earned the Medal of Honor for protecting one of the United States’ greatest symbols during the Civil War — the American flag. Considering his heroic efforts to save the flag, what would Sgt. Carney think of Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling in protest of the National Anthem and the American flag today?
According to the Department of Defense News, Carney, an escaped southern slave:
…had wanted to pursue a career in the church, but when the Civil War broke out, he decided the best way he could serve God was by serving in the military to help free the oppressed.
In March 1863, [at age 23] Carney joined the Union Army and was attached to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official black unit recruited for the Union in the north. Forty other black men served with him, including two of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ sons.
Within a few months, Carney’s training would be put to the ultimate test during the unit’s first major combat mission in Charleston, South Carolina.
Charge on Fort Wagner
On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of Carney’s regiment led the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the unit’s color guard was shot. Carney, who was just a few feet away, saw the dying man stumble, and he scrambled to catch the falling flag.
Despite suffering several serious gunshot wounds himself, Carney kept the symbol of the Union held high as he crawled up the hill to the walls of Fort Wagner, urging his fellow troops to follow him. He planted the flag in the sand at the base of the fort and held it upright until his near-lifeless body was rescued.
Even then, though, he didn’t give it up. Many witnesses said Carney refused to give the flag to his rescuers, holding onto it tighter until, with assistance, he made it to the Union’s temporary barracks.
Carney lost a lot of blood and nearly lost his life, but not once did he allow the flag to touch the ground. Carney was promoted to the rank of sergeant for his actions.
The National Museum of the U.S. Army notes:
Carney was severely injured. Yet, he still managed to save the American flag after previous color bearers fell. Carney said, “I threw away my gun, seized the colors, and made my way to the head of the column” proclaiming, “I did but my duty; the dear old flag never touched the ground.”
This action displayed the pride the 54th took in their role as U.S. Army Soldiers and showed the bravery and military skills of the Black Soldiers.
His actions also showed the deep respect, love and affection these black soldiers had for the American flag. For his bravery, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900, by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Carney’s citation reads:
When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.
In 1901, shortly after his medal was awarded, a song was published about his daring exploits: “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground.”
Carney died at the Boston City Hospital on December 9, 1908, of complications from an elevator accident at the Massachusetts State House, where he worked for the Department of State.
His legacy serves as a shining example of the patriotism that Americans felt at that time, despite the color of their skin. An example many should remember today. ADN