By Brandon HENSLEY
Proof that big things can come from small places, the U.S. is in the middle of celebrating National Flag Week. Where exactly does the “small places” part come in to play? Well, because the idea of Flag Week actually started in Montrose, and was led by an immigrant.
Vito Cannella is in his 80s. He is a Montrose barber. He used to be postmaster of the area in the 1960s, and is part of the Crescenta-Cañada Rotary Club. He also loves this country dearly, although he is not from here.
Cannella is from Italy, and moved to the U.S. in 1954. During the Vietnam War, he didn’t like the way soldiers were treated when they returned home.
“They were spit on, demonstrated against,” he said. “[People] have the right to demonstrate. We all have the right to express our point of view. But they were doing something wrong, in burning the flag, the symbol of the country.”
The flag burning is what really got Cannella going.
“That’s when I got upset at the people, [so] myself and Bill Bailey [Rotary member who has since passed], we decided to do something about it. We brought the idea to Rotary to see if we could honor the flag in some way.”
President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation in 1916 declaring June 14 as Flag Day, and in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by Congress. But Cannella wanted more than just a day. He wanted a whole week.
“We always had a big joke in the Rotary Club, he’d get up and make an announcement about Flag Week and no one could understand what he was saying so we had to have one of the other Italians translate for him,” said Joe Kroening, a Rotary member who manages Andy’s Transfer and Storage in Montrose.
Through the help of then-Congressman H. Allen Smith, the persistence of Cannella and his fellow Rotary members paid off. It took about 18,000 signatures, said Kroening, but in 1966, they achieved success.
“To commemorate the adoption of our flag, the Congress, by joint resolution approved August 3, 1949, as amended (63 Stat. 492), designated June 14 of each year as ‘Flag Day’ and requested that the President issue an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of the flag of the United States on all Federal Government buildings,” wrote President Obama in a proclamation this week. “The Congress also requested, by joint resolution approved June 9, 1966, as amended (80 Stat. 194), that the President annually issue a proclamation designating the week in which June 14 occurs as ‘National Flag Week’ and call upon citizens of the United States to display the flag during that week.”
Every year Cannella receives a proclamation from the county, and this year he dedicated it to CV Weekly.
Cannella’s nationalism has always impressed Kroening.
“He was very fervent in his devotion to this country,” he said of Cannella.
Kroening said he’s proud of their accomplishment.
“It was quite an event for us. For a small Rotary Club to accomplish that was quite a feat,” he said.
For Cannella, it’s the least he could do for a country he loves.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to come and live in this country, for what I’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “I feel that this is the rent I pay for the room me and my family occupy.”