Mville man brings flags to the fore
August 28, 2008 · Updated 9:30 AM
MARYSVILLE If patriotism is flagging, dont blame Hugh Fleet.
The Marysville man has plenty and boy is he willing to share it. Knowledge, history, passion and flags. Lots of flags.
The phone czar for the Marysville School District showed the flags of his fathers for district leaders last week, with dozens of flags that have flown over America since Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere 500 years ago.
Fleet is a Vietnam veteran who makes about a dozen presentations each year to local groups explaining the origins of and changes to the many flags of the United States. At the district headquarters last week students from Marysville Mountain View High School helped Fleet display dozens of flags as the phone technician amazed a couple hundred people with his vast knowledge of history. He quickly reeled off quote after quote from the founders of our country, as he held out first one flag, and then another, showing how changes to the national standard both reflected and affected society, often at the same time.
I want to tell you our story, our American story, with the use of these flags, Fleet explained.
There have been 27 official United States flags since the original model stitched together by Betsy Ross, and Fleet had every one of them on hand. He quickly switched from one to another, pointing out the meaning of each component. Many versions of the familiar Stars and Stripes were new to the educators and students alike, and both were amazed at Fleets encyclopedic knowledge of the people and the events behind the flags.
The blue field on the U.S. flag has seen the most changes, from a version with the British Union Jack on the spot, to the General Fremont with a bold white eagle, to the Bennington with 13 stars over a big 76.
The one with just 13 red and white stripes is his favorite, Fleet said. Thats the Sons of Liberty, sponsors of the Boston Tea Party.
I like the Sons of Liberty Flag, I like what they stood for, he explained. They were kind of the early revolutionary types who were fed up with the tyranny. Of course I like the rattlesnake flags.
That would include the U.S. Navy Jack, a field of red and white stripes with a rattler and the words Dont Tread on Me blazoned below.
The U.S. Navy is flying this flag on the bows of their ships in the Persian Gulf, Fleet told the crowd.
He was full of recondite facts and quotations, and repeatedly brought a smile to the faces of the crowd as he spoke of our country and its founders in the present tense.
Can you hear Jefferson saying to the masses of mankind Fleet would intone as he solemnly quoted the man who penned the Declaration of Independence, at age 33. Fleet sprinkled his demonstration with other bon mots from Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, John Paul Jones and Daniel Webster, among others. Time and again his quotes referred to one of the flags and its role in a battle, speech or other significant event.
Some flags of Spanish and French origin begged the question of what might have been, while others made a mockery of their kind. A Texas flag with the colors of Mexico had a date blazoned on it, about a dozen years before the 1845 admission to the union. Fleet had a couple of versions of the Confederate flag, an original with three bars on it and the familiar Stars and Bars with 13 stars. That was a little presumptuous, according to Fleet: only 11 states succeeded from the Union during the Civil War.
You see, the South was a little bit overly optimistic, Fleet chuckled. They thought they were going to get a couple more border states.
Fleets collection started 20 years ago when former Everett Mayor Bill Moore wanted to enhance the Fourth of July parade. Moore bought a version of Old Glory with 48 stars, because that was the flag he served under in Europe when he drove a tank to defeat the Nazis. Moore also collected a bunch of people, including Fleet and former Everett schools superintendent Rudy Johnson, and with a grant from the ARCO oil company they assembled the flag collection over a number of years. As the old soldiers faded away about a dozen years ago, Fleet inherited the collection and now he keeps the work alive.
He speaks to many Veterans organizations, unit banquets and ship reunions, whoever will listen.
It incites questions a lot of times, Fleet said. They usually didnt realize there were that many American flags.
Thats what Mountain View sophomore Kay Scherf said. She was one of the several dozen students who helped Fleet with the May 15 history lesson.
I didnt know that there was so many different kinds, that stood for so many different reasons, Scherf said.
Marysville schools superintendent Larry Nyland said he wanted his principals and staff to know about Fleet and his treasure of knowledge so they could have him out to their schools for a lesson. Fleet is happy to go to anyone who will listen and can be reached at the school districts main line, 360-658-7058 or by email at email@example.com.
I really like doing these flag presentations, they keep my heart in the right place, Fleet said.