Watch this. Positively fascinating.
Look down below at that picture of two brave soldiers. The one on the left is wearing a BACKWARD American flag patch. The stars appear on the right side of the flag, not the left! But the soldier on the right is wearing a “normal” American flag patch. The stars appear on the left side of the flag, where we usually see them.
So what’s going on here??!!
The difference is the arm that the flag is worn on. If the American flag is worn on the right arm, the American flag will appear “backwards” with the stars on the right. If the American flag is worn on the left arm, the American flag appears “normal” with the stars on the left.
This is not just some random military tradition. It has to do with honoring the bravery of soldiers who are facing down an enemy and how the Stars & Stripes fly when one rushes into battle.
Back in the old days, America’s military had flag bearers on the battlefield. When these flag bearers rushed into battle with the troops, the American flag would fly from its pole with the stars always in the front. The stars always “led the way.”
The military no longer uses flag bearers in battle, but flags do “fly” on the uniforms of our brave men and women of the Armed Forces.
Take a look at this picture below of a flag bearer from the old days.
See how the flag is flying in the wind? And notice how the stars lead the way. If you see a flag bearer running into battle from that person’s left (as you look at that person’s left shoulder), the stars will be on the left side of the flag. This matches how the American flag is worn on a soldier’s left arm.
If you run to the other side of the battlefield and see the same flag bearer from the reverse side, the stars of the American flag will now be on the right. Again, the stars lead the way.
If the stars on the right arm were to be on the left side of the flag, that could be interpreted to mean that the soldier is running away from the battle. This would be a sign of cowardice and unbecoming of an American soldier! So this is why the stars are on the right. This is why, on the Stars & Stripes, STARS LEAD THE WAY. Always.
The next time you see a soldier wearing that backwards American flag, think of it as a reminder of that person’s bravery. That soldier is fighting for our freedom, and the stars always lead the way.
The History Guy remembers Robert Smalls, a hero of the Civil War from South Carolina.
The episode contains photographs from the period of the US Civil War. Although no graphic violence is shown, this was a period of conflict, which might disturb some viewers. All photos are shown in the context of the history of the era.