A pageant titled Flags Over America, created by FMCA member Woody Miller, stirs patriotism wherever it is performed.
By Peggy Jordan
What does America mean to you? Even if your level of patriotism is higher than most folks’, it will be elevated even further by the time you’ve seen the Flags Over America program.
This pageant presents the flags that have flown over the United States from Colonial days to the present. A narrator explains each flag’s history as stirring melodies play in the background, and important historic moments are associated with particular flags. A portion of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is recited, as are the famed words of John Paul Jones: “I have not yet begun to fight.”
Costumed men portray George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who talk about God and liberty. Audience members who served in particular branches of the military are asked to stand when the flag from his or her branch is presented, and 36 different flags eventually decorate the stage. By the time George Washington closes the program by saying, “God Bless America,” everyone has learned more about the country’s history, and many audience members have been moved to tears. Even some cast members have a case of the sniffles.
The man who portrays the “father of our country” and is responsible for creating the program is Arthur “Woody” Miller, F233882. Woody is president of the Executive East Pioneers chapter, and fellow chapter members play roles in the production. So does Woody’s wife, Jean, who coordinates the music.
The Millers now live in Harrisville, Pennsylvania, but for many years their residency depended upon where the U.S. Air Force took them. Woody served 27 years in the Air Force — 17 years as an enlisted man and 10 years as a commissioned officer. During those years he and Jean raised a daughter and two sons, and lived in California, Texas, and Florida. Woody retired in 1981 with the rank of captain.
After his retirement, Woody worked as a vice president for a medical holding company and directed a charitable foundation. Other activities also kept him busy. Jean’s parents owned a campground called Kozy Rest in Harrisville, so the family settled there. As Jean’s parents’ health declined, the Millers began operating the Kozy Rest. At the same time, Woody also managed an RV park in Harrisville called Slippery Rock Campground.
The Flags Over America program was born on July 4, 1990, at the Kozy Rest campground. But its roots lie in the days when Woody lived in Texas and was a member of a group called the National Sojourners, which consists of Master Masons who are commissioned military officers. “They elect a group called Heroes, and they have a program in which they simply tell about different flags that flew over America,” Woody said. He had kept the Colonial-style costume he wore while in that group. In honor of the Fourth that year, he donned the outfit, borrowed a horse from a neighbor, and rode around the campground calling everybody to arms. The people at the campground got quite a kick out of it, he said, and they liked his patriotic portrayal of George Washington in the campground recreation hall.
“The first one, I was the cast,” he recalled. “Two men came up to me with tears in their eyes afterward and said, ‘We need more patriotic stuff.’ The next year we had just about six people in the cast. We started making it bigger each year,” he said. “We just wrote it as we went, and it kept going.”
Jean sewed some of the costumes and worked up the recorded musical accompaniment; Woody obtained more and more flags. They also found more friends to join them in the pageant.
The Millers purchased their first motorhome, a Holiday Rambler, in 1985, and were active in a Holiday Rambler owners club in 1990 when Woody performed that first program. Members of the owner’s club soon began helping him put on the show, as did people he met at Slippery Rock Campground. Today, Woody said, “I have three casts. One from Slippery Rock, one from Holiday Rambler, and one from FMCA.”
Each cast is involved as necessity dictates. When the program is presented near Harrisville, people from that area get involved. The program has been presented at area grade schools, churches, and campgrounds.
“The larger campgrounds out in eastern Pennsylvania, they want the program, but I can’t ask the people to travel that far,” Woody said. “So, I just pack the costumes and flags and they recruit the people from the campground. I’ve done two campgrounds around Harrisburg. We just have one rehearsal, and go.”
When necessary, Jean and Woody carry all of the program’s flags and costumes inside their motorhome. Woody laughed and said the flags go in the basement, and the costumes go in the closets. “My wife and I have about one foot of closet left for our stuff,” he said.
The majority of the people in the group of FMCA cast members are members of the Executive East Pioneers chapter, which has a geographic scope encompassing western Pennsylvania. Jean and Woody joined FMCA in 1997 and were members of the Executive East Pioneers by 1999. It did not take long for chapter members to decide that they, too, were interested in being a part of the patriotic pageant.
Chapter members made up the majority of the cast of the Flags Over America program that was first presented at the Great Eastern Area Rally (GEAR) in October 2000. The program was so popular that it was offered again at the GEAR in 2001, during which time it was videotaped. Players in the videotaped version include narrator Joe Harrell, F219310; Thomas Jefferson portrayer Keith Ekis, F297040; and, of course, Woody Miller as George Washington. Other FMCA members include the men and women who present and display each flag, and the men and women outfitted to represent different branches of the military or different world wars. Representing the Marines is Skip Skipper, F119793, national vice president of FMCA’s Eastern Area, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps with a rank of lieutenant colonel after serving for nearly 36 years.
The Flags Over America program was offered as part of evening entertainment at the FMCA international convention in Perry, Georgia, this past March. Skip said that the program “became the center of conversation throughout the rest of the convention. Everyone had glowing comments about it.”
Videotapes of the program filmed at the 2001 GEAR were first made available for sale at the Perry convention, and FMCA recently sent each chapter president a copy of the videotape. The video will also be included in kits sent to new chapters as they are formed.
FMCA members may buy their own copies of the 40-minute program for $5, plus $3 for postage. Mail a check made payable to FMCA to the national office (8291 Clough Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45244). For credit card orders, call (800) 543-3622 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time; ask for Joyce Hausman, extension 246.
Woody said he has received plenty of compliments about the program, but the comment of which he is most proud came from an Army colonel who attended an evening of patriotic entertainment during a GEAR rally. “(He) said he was stationed in Washington, D.C., for six years, and our flag program was the best patriotic program he’d ever seen,” Woody noted.
Flags Over America is now in demand in many different places. Later this year it will be offered at a meeting of the Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star in Pittsburgh, and for a Pennsylvania Democratic women’s convention. The program is always presented for free. However, Woody said, “Lately people have been donating money toward the program. If they do, we take it, but we make sure it goes back into new costumes. Last year we got a donation, so we’re buying a new sound system.”
He also said that people have told him that he ought to copyright the program. “I said, ‘If a thousand people steal this, the better. We’ve got to get the message out.'”
As far as Woody is concerned, the program’s reason for existence — “to tell the importance of God and country and patriotism” — is something that should be shared.