Michael Thomas Leibrandt: Flag of our fathers

It can’t be some accident of the annual calendar that Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and July 4th all occur within a forty-five day sprint at the beginning of each summer season in America. Last month, we paid tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend our country, beginning with parades and a sea of red, white, and blue flags and ending with the inviting aroma of hamburgers and hot dogs fresh from the grill.

We commemorate some of our veteran’s most important moments  —  the Irish Brigade (many from Philadelphia) holding the stone wall and repelling Pickett’s Charge to turn the tide of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Washington’s Army cutting off the British from the Sea at Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, or winning World War II in 1945. We also remember the bravery in difficult times like the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor in 1941, or American forces leaving South Vietnam in 1973.

My great uncle landed in Normandy 80 years ago and served with Patton in World War II, and my grandfather served in Korea. The cemetery where he is buried is a stone’s throw from the traditional Memorial Day Parade. The Glenside Patriotic 4th of July Parade is one of the oldest continuously running in America since 1904. 

On a ridge line just above the cemetery, was one of the finest examples of patriotism, heroism, and sacrifice that can be found. Not long after British forces under Lord Sir William Howe and Lord Cornwallis had captured Philadelphia without a shot having been fired, Revolutionary War skirmishes were taking place in Pennsylvania’s countryside.

In December 1777, the British marched out of Philadelphia in an attempt to confront Washington’s Army in what would become known as The Battle of Whitemarsh. On December 7th, the Americans around Abington Village were pushed out of the town faced with the full power of the British forces who had marched up Old York Road. American forces retreated down Susquehanna Road towards the heights on Edge Hill and Camp Hill in the distance.

Somewhere along that ridge above what is today the cemetery, four American patriots were encircled and killed by the British. The next day, when British forces retreated back to Philadelphia and Washington’s Army remained in control of the battlefield, many soldiers where buried where they lay in the hard Pennsylvania ground with winter weather looming.

Some 85 years later in 1861  —  in the same decade as the Army of the Potomac’s victory in turning back the Confederates at Gettysburg  —  a family bought the land on the Edge Hill ridge. One day while the daughter of the family was playing, she uncovered what appeared to be a Revolutionary War bayonet. Further investigation uncovered the remain of the four heroes.

For nearly 180 years, those brave patriots kept their promise to guard the heights of Edge Hill during the development of the area to the construction of residential homes, and the introduction of retail shopping. Finally in 1953 — in an emotional Memorial Day ceremony  —  the four patriots were moved less than a mile away to the front of Jenkintown VFW Post 676. This past December ,  amid swirling, snowy winds , VFW Post 676 received a State Historical Marker commemorating the battle.

Each year American flags are placed in the cemetery and just up the road where VFW Post 676 is located at the marker of the unknown soldiers. I always let Grandad’s red, white, and blue flag blow in the breeze until Father’s Day. In some way it is a comfort to know that the four unknown heroes keep watch over Grandad’s final resting place and the ridge line. Just like they have for almost 250 years.

Michael Thomas Leibrandt lives and works in Abington Township, Pennsylvania.

One thought on “Michael Thomas Leibrandt: Flag of our fathers”

  1. Mr. Leibrandt,
    With the sincerest apperception thank you for your excellent article.
    With some hesitation (not enough apparently) it seems your specific remark: “Each year American flags are placed in the cemetery…” needs a slight alteration.
    [Because of the courageous acts of Joe Gale during Covid,] each year American flags [have been] placed in the cemetery…
    Dung Mastriano and all the very nicest people vote for snakes like Gov. Shapiro.

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