iverhead Elks Lodge Flag Day essay contest winners: (front row, left to right) Casey Hubbard, Dillon Realander, Ryan Quick; (back row, left to right) Mae Kreiger, Charles Cocanower, Logan Levesque, Alex Sliwak, Candace Cadenhead Violet Burns. Not pictured: Luke Stepnoski. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The history and meaning of the American flag were front and center yesterday at the Riverhead Elks Lodge, where members held the organization’s annual Flag Day service.

The service recounts the evolution of the nation’s flag, beginning with the the Pine Tree Flag, which was adopted in 1775 and was the carried by the Continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and continuing to the current American flag, a banner of 13 red and white stripes and 50 white stars on a field of blue.

The lodge sponsors an annual Flag Day essay contest, which is open to all first through fifth graders in Riverhead public schools.

A committee of three Elks members read through hundreds of essays, Elks Lodge 2044 exalted ruler Theresa Hubbard said. “The essays are not judged on grammar or anything like that,” she said, “just the message from the heart about what the flag means to the child.” Contestants are asked to write an essay titled “What the American flag means to me.”

There are two contest categories: grades 1-3 and grades 4-5. The lodge awards first-, second-, third- and fourth-place prizes in each category. Winners get cash prizes and the opportunity to read their essays aloud at the service, held at the Elks Lodge on East Main Street. The students and their families are invited to “a classic American lunch” of hamburgers and hot dogs served by the lodge after the service concludes.

The “fraternal aims” of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks — the organization’s formal name — are “to inculcate the principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity; to promote the welfare and happiness of mankind; to uphold our country and its laws; and to quicken the spirit of American patriotism,” according to the Flag Day service ritual.

The American flag is “emblematic of the crowning virtue, charity,” of “justice for all” and is “the symbol of brotherly love,” the ritual states, in question-and-answer format led by the lodge’s exalted ruler.

The service is a history lesson on the various banners that served as the American flag in the history of the nation — from revolutionary-era Pine Tree, Snake and Grand Union flags, to the Betsy Ross flag, to the 15-stripe flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1912, to the 48-star flag that flew from 1912 until the addition of two more stars, in 1959 and 1960, representing the annexation as states of Alaska and Hawaii.

Members of American Legion Post 272 in Riverhead presented each of the flags as Hubbard read the narrative history.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, council members Jodi Giglio, Tim Hubbard and Catherine Kent and Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm attended the service.

Elks Lodge trustee Dick Herzog presented each winner with their prize: a check and an American flag. Jens-Smith presented each winner with a certificate of recognition from the Riverhead Town Board.

Winners, grades 1-3

1st place: Dillon Realander, 2nd grade, Aquebogue Elementary School

2nd place: Mae Krieger, 3rd grade Riley Avenue Elementary School

3rd place: Charles Cocanower, 1st grade, Aquebogue Elementary School

4th place: Ryan Quick, 2nd grade, Riley Avenue Elementary School
and Luke Stepnoski, 3rd grade, Aquebogue Elementary School

Winners, grades 4-5

1st place: Alex Sliwak, 5th grade, Pulaski Street School

2nd place: Casey Hubbard, 4th grade Aquebogue Elementary School

3rd place: Violet Burns, 5th grade, Pulaski Street School

4th place: Candace Cadenhead, 4th grade, Riley Avenue Elementary School
and Logan Levesque, 4th grade, 4th grade, Riley Avenue Elementary School

“I love Flag Day at the Elks. Every year, I learn something new,” Elks exalted ruler Hubbard said. ” It’s such a nice day.”

Flag Day commemorates the official adoption of the American Flag by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.

Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, but it has been observed since at least the Civil War era. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to officially established June 14 as Flag Day. In August 1946, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.

In Riverhead, Flag Day ceremonies are held every year on June 14 by the Daughters of the American Revolution at Pulaski Street School.

What the American Flag Means to Me — in their own words

“The American flag represents freedom, respect, liberty, peace, justice…God bless you America. I love you.”-Dillon Realander

Dillon Realander, first-place winner.

“The American flag symbolizes freedom and the history of our nation.” -Alex Sliwak

Alex Sliwak, first-place winner, grades 4-5

“We should be kind to each other, share and even give to each other.” – Mae Kreiger

Mae Kreiger, second-place winner. grades 1-3

“The American flag means safe to me…because of all the soldiers that fought in the wars for our country.” – Casey Hubbard

Casey Hubbard, second-place winner, grades 4-5

“The American flag means strength.” – Charles Cocanower

Charles Cocanower, third-place winner, grades 1-3

“Our flag means freedom and justice and liberty” -Violet Burns

Violet Burns, third-place winner, grades 4-5

“The American flag makes me think of the Army. The Army makes me feel safe because they protect us from people who want to hurt our country.” -Ryan Quick

Ryan Quick, fourth-place winner, grades 1-3

“Looking at the flag, I feel a sense of pride because we fought for America and for freedom.” – Candace Cadenhead

Candace Cadenhead, fourth-place winner, grades 4-5

“The American flag means courage, freedom and the sacrifices we have made.” – Logan Levesque

Logan Levesque, fourth-place winner, grades 4-5

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.