On June 14, Washington, D.C. will host the annual Roll Call of Nations wreath-laying ceremony, commemorating those people – past and present – who have been the victims of totalitarian oppression.  It is fitting that we honor such dissidents, activists, survivors, and victims on a day that every American school child knows as Flag Day.

The Second Continental Congress adopted the basic design of the American flag on June 14, 1777.  After the Civil War, Americans have honored this powerful and unifying symbol of hope in a variety of ways.  President Woodrow Wilson further established the day with an executive order during the first World War; Congress enshrined Flag Day in law just after World War II.

Our flag’s colors stand for valor (red), purity (white), and vigilance (blue). The colored bands recall the original thirteen colonies and the white stars honor the fifty states that make up today’s Union.  The Stars and Stripes is the globally recognized emblem of the most enduring and influential modern democracy, and a symbol of hope and freedom to billions of people.

At the June 14 Roll Call of Nations, ambassadors from former communist countries will lay wreaths at the Congressionally-authorized Victims of Communism Memorial (not far from Union Station).  They will be joined by representatives of those still held captive by tyrannical regimes: Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Vietnamese, Hmong, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Chinese, Belarussians, and many others.  Sadly, the list goes on and on.

The tally of communist crimes is grotesque.  Communist regimes are responsible for at least 100 million murdered people during the twentieth century, with the Soviet Union and China leading the count.  Even more tragic is the fact that at least 1.5 billion people still live under communist rule in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere.

What is the symbol of hope for so many behind the barbed wire and prison walls of despotic governments?  America, and its red, white, and blue flag.  That flag was a symbol to past generations of immigrants who left instability and poverty to come to America.  It remains the visible image of a better life characterized by liberty and opportunity. Here are a few quotes from those whose families sought freedom that honor this Flag Day.

American bandmaster John Philip Sousa’s parents were immigrants originating in Germany and Portugal: “The red and white and starry blue – is freedom’s shield and hope.”

Broadway composer George M. Cohan’s parents fled poverty in Ireland: “You’re a grand old flag … You’re the emblem of the land I love. The home of the free and the brave.”

U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Steele’s family fled North Korea: “On Flag Day we remember that there is no better flag to wave than the one that represents the greatest country in the world.”

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s family hales from Cuba: “The American flag represents more than a country.  It represents hope. Today we’re reminded of the God-given rights endowed to every American citizen.”

Congressman Tom Lantos, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who later fled communist tyranny, speaking about going to work in the U.S. Capitol daily: “When I look up [to] the dome, and the flag, I choke up — every morning!”

This Flag Day, perhaps you have a story of thanksgiving to share with your neighbors and children, about the way the Stars and Stripes was and is an emblem of pride and hope for your family.  All of us can participate in this “roll call” commemorating the oppressed by re-affirming our commitment to the principles represented by the American flag.