Last Sunday, I was asked about the flag ceremony Girl Scout Troop 931 conducted at the Armistice centennial ceremony at Lanterman House. My short response was, “It’s tradition.”
A color ceremony embodies a distinct history that evolved from Wellington and Napoleonic traditions of early 19-century Europe. When customs are transferred from generation to generation they become tradition, which acts as an anchor keeping us from being adrift.
Many students who’ve cycled through La Cañada Unified have taken the fifth-grade trip to Valley Forge. They may recall seeing there the huge statue overlooking the Grand Parade. What happened there in 1778 was nothing short of a miracle. It actually saved the Continental Army, which had been handily defeated and had just endured a brutal winter. The Grand Parade was also the nucleus for the pageants associated with many military ceremonies we practice today.
I had nothing to do with the “color” ceremony the Girl Scout troop followed Sunday. The credit for that goes to Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian military officer appointed by Gen. George Washington to be the inspector general of the Continental Army. He trained the troops, preparing them to face British Regulars, the best soldiers in the world.
The baron, a distinguished gentleman, wore an eight-pointed silver star on his chest, etched with the word “Fidelitas.” Today, fidelity is often symbolic of the American officer corps. At Valley Forge’s Grand Parade, von Steuben would walk among the formations of soldiers, adjusting their muskets, straightening their tattered uniforms and showing them how to march. He taught them the importance of close order drill and maneuver, which would maintain their ranks under fire and prepare them for the bayonet. When the troops’ discipline broke down or when they made a mistake, he’d swear at them in German and French. His antics set the demeanor of the harsh and iconic drill instructor we admire today.
Baron von Steuben wrote the “Revolutionary War Drill Manual” that served as the textbook for the American military. His genius eventually led to the “Landing Party Manual” (LPM), published in the 1950s, which is a primer for Marines going ashore and seizing ground. The LPM also set the standards for both military drill and ceremony.
I am all too familiar with the LMP since as a Marine officer, I consumed its tactics and also became proficient in military ceremonies.
During Sunday’s ceremony at Lanterman House, command incrementally flowed from the officer in charge, Ashley Dietrich, to the parade adjutants, Edie Remender, Carolina Marinovich, Claire Hong and Michelle Lee. The adjutants’ responsibility is to ensure the commanding officer that the detail is formed. The adjutants ordered the color sergeant, Violet Waugh, to inspect the detail. America inherited the color sergeant from the British traditions of pomp and circumstance. Violet ordered flag bearers Victoria Kelly and Anna Romer along with guards Alexa Talbert, Caitlyn Wu, Sienna Gundersen and Marlo O’Brien, to move forward.
David and Steven Miketta and Samantha Verlaque spoke at the commemoration. Maggie MacKenzie sang the national anthem and “Danny Boy.” Danni Remender, Marcela Hurtado, Brent Whitfield and Jack MacKenzie supervised.
Following the vision of Baron von Steuben, the La Cañada commemoration team raised the colors according to traditions set at Valley Forge during the very precarious time in American history.
Let me leave you with insight into this iconic symbol of martial spirit who helped save the Continental Army. Von Steuben was a disgraced captain in the Prussian Army who, 10 years before Valley Forge, was dishonorably discharged. He spent years attempting to reenlist, but no army would take him. Subsequently, he learned about this insane general in America named Washington who believed he could take on the British. The baron happened to meet Benjamin Franklin in a bar in France. Franklin wrote von Steuben a letter of introduction, which he eventually presented to Washington at Valley Forge. The rest is history.
The La Cañada commemoration team, as ordered, prosecuted von Steuben’s vision.