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By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
John Andringa didn’t know what he was until he figured it out by watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” one night.
The question: “What does a vexillologist collect?” The choices were books, stamps, coins and flags.
Andringa wasn’t sure, but he guessed books.
The correct answer?
Flags.
You might think that a guy who owns more than 125 flags and has FLAGMAN on his license plate would have known that.
Andringa, who lives in Gastonia, began collecting more than 20 years ago when his wife bought him a flag at a flea market.
She was particularly intrigued by the “Grand Union” stamped on the binding, since her husband worked for the grocery chain of that name.
Andringa got a book so he could learn about the flag and discovered it was the same type of flag hoisted by George Washington. While the Grand Union Flag should appear in the famous painting that depicts Washington crossing the Delaware,the artist incorrectly painted the Stars and Stripes instead.
The Grand Union was the first flag to bear a resemblance to our present day flag, Andringa says, with the British Union flag in the corner and six white stripes on a red field.
His first flag piqued his interest in flag history, and Andringa and his son began to acquire more. His son is in the military and finds many of them at military collectors’ shows.
Most recently, he gave Andringa a flag for Father’s Day ó a 46-star flag, which dates from 1890 to 1912.
Over the years, Andringa has learned a lot about flag history, and he’s happy to share his knowledge with school, church and civic groups. On Flag Day, he did several presentations at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center.
He got particularly busy with his flag presentations after Sept. 11, he says.
Andringa loves his country. In 1952, he began a four-year stint in the Air Force, serving in Florida, Morocco and Arizona.
He appreciates the effort and bravery that went into creating this nation.
“It took a lot of work and a lot of gumption to make this country,” he says.
He tries to make the point, especially to schoolchildren, that you can learn a lot about our history as a country by learning about our flag’s history.
Most people aren’t aware of how many permutations the flag has gone through.
Our current 50-star flag is the 27th version of our national banner.
Andringa can tell you why we celebrate Flag Day on June 14 ó it was that day in 1777 that a Flag Resolution was enacted by Congress, resolving that the U.S. flag have 13 stripes, alternating red and white.
An act in 1794 provided for 15 stripes and 15 stars, which appeared on the flag known as the Star-Spangled Banner.
That flag, which Francis Scott Key saw flying over Fort McHenry in 1814, inspired our national anthem. It had been requested by Maj. George Armistead, who wanted to fly a flag so large the British wouldn’t have any trouble seeing it.
A mother and daughter pair made the flag, which used a whopping 400 yards of wool and measured 30 by 42 feet ó at a cost of $405.90.
That flag can now be seen at the Smithsonian.
The decision was made to return to 13 stripes because it was felt that adding an additional stripe for each new state would get unwieldy and “make the flag look like a pair of pajamas,” Andringa says, with the stripes getting narrower and narrower.
Andringa’s audiences are often intrigued to learn about the history of the Confederate flag.
Confederate soldiers did not like the first flag, the Stars and Bars.
When carried in the field, it was often confused with the Stars and Stripes.
Soldiers would carry a small Southern Cross into battle, and eventually, that became more popular than the Stars and Bars because it was more distinctive.
“Flags were very important then in fighting,” Andringa explains. They were more than symbolic; flags helped soldiers determine whose army was where.
At one time, the stars on the American flag were arranged in the shape of a star, but that didn’t last long.
One hard-to-find American flag is the one with 38 stars. An easy flag to find is one with 48 stars ó that particular version lasted 47 years, Andringa says.
He collects state flags as well. The orange and black Maryland flag is one of his favorites. It’s quite distinctive, with a fleur-de-lis design.
Andringa says he doesn’t particularly care for the flags that feature snakes ó although schoolchildren often think they’re cool. He does find it interesting that snakes were such popular symbols ó with the message being basically, “Mess with us at your own peril.”
Andringa says that if you fold an American flag correctly, all you will see is the blue with the white stars. The red ó symbolic of blood ó is not visible.
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If you’d like Andringa to speak to your group, you can call him at 704-867-5525.
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Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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