Revisit Johnny Cash’s ‘Ragged Old Flag’ in Honor of Flag Day

by Jim Casey

On Flag Day (June 14) in 1977, Johnny Cash walked into the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol with wife June and their 7-year-old son John Carter Cash. While Johnny was there to perform, so to speak, he did not sing. Instead—45 years ago today—Johnny just spoke. He recited the words to his 1974 song, “Ragged Old Flag.”

Johnny penned “Ragged Old Flag” for his 1974 album of the same name, as a patriotic tribute during the ongoing Watergate scandal. He hoped the song would help reaffirm faith in the county and the goodness of the American people. The song is told from the perspective of a passerby, who, after meeting an old man in a town square, gets a lesson about the resilience of the town’s “ragged old flag.”

The patriotic overtones of Ragged Old Flag pretty much stop after the stirring title song and the front cover. However, the album carried another distinction. It was the first album in which Johnny wrote/co-wrote all of the songs.

“Ragged Old Flag” was the sole song from the album that was released as a single. While “Ragged Old Flag” only ascended to No. 31 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it has remained a sonic staple at celebrations on Flag Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July—and even Super Bowl commercials.

Flag Day Program

Of course, Flag Day celebrates the anniversary of the American flag’s creation in 1777, when the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution with specifics about what the flag should look like: “13 stripes, alternate red and white” with “13 stars, white in a blue field.”

The House stood in recess during the U.S. Flag Day commemoration on June 14, 1977 (its bicentennial), so that non-Members like the Cash family could attend the celebration.

According to the 1977 Flag Day Program, which you can view, there were a number of patriotic performances, including the “Star-Spangled Banner” by the U.S. Army Band and “America the Beautiful” by the Boston Choir.

Tennessee Rep. Robin Beard introduced Johnny Cash, noting “his deep feelings about his country and its history as symbolized by our flag, have been immortalized in his sensitive poem, ‘This Ragged Old Flag.'”

And with that introduction, Johnny Cash thanked those in attendance. He referenced how he penned the poem after being inspired by children running down the aisle of a movie theater. And then Johnny recited “Ragged Old Flag,” which you can listen to below (1974 version).