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Battle Flag

Of The


By Ben Lamberton LaGarde, Jr.
October 24,1998

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On October 24, 1998, a moving ceremony took place aboard USFS OLYMPIA in Philadelphia PA. On this day the family of Admiral B. P. Lamberton, formerly the commanding officer of the Cruiser OLYMPIA, turned a treasured family heirloom over to the OLYMPIA and her caretaker, the Independence Seaport Museum. This heirloom was one of the battleflags that flew from the OLYMPIA during the Battle of Manila Bay, and also during the final battle for Manila. The Lamberton family delegation was headed by Ben Lamberton LaGarde. Mr. LaGarde delivered the following moving address on this occasion, while standing on the fantail of the venerable cruiser, as the Living History Crew of the OLYMPIA looked on.

The address of Mr. LaGarde:

"In deciding what to say today, I realized that I needed to address three groups.  To those of you here with my family and me, I speak first to you.  You need to understand some background about these events.  Please bear with me as I give you that background via some historic fiction.  Fiction to be sure, but closely based on facts as I have come to know them.

My great grandfather, B. P. Lamberton, replaced Gridley as Captain of  The OLYMPIA shortly after the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898.  Gridley had served on board her since well before the fleet received its orders and set sail from Hong Kong against the Spanish the month before, on April 14, 1898.  After the formal surrender ceremony of the Spanish on board The OLYMPIA on August 13, 1898, Lamberton unfolded a flag on the table in front of him, and wrote in ink on its hem words that would mark it forever as the flag.

Years later before his death, he summoned his daughter into his study.  "Mary," he said, "I want to give you something sacred to me.  My old ship, The OLYMPIA, has fallen on hard times.  We don't know what will become of her.  I want to give you a piece of her I have kept for many years: the flag. You must keep it safe always as a reminder of our history." He told her about the flag, and showed her the words he had written on it so long ago.

I met my great-aunt Mary when I was a child when our family visited her home in Carlisle, PA.  She was every bit as elf-like and lively then as she must have seemed to her doting father, Admiral Lamberton.  I can only imagine that she told my father then when she gave him the flag: "Now, Ben, the Admiral treasured this flag.  The OLYMPIA is in Philadelphia, but she is in bad shape.  I have tried to help, but I can't be sure what will finally become of her.  I have no children, and you have the Admiral's name.  So, you must keep it now. Keep it safe always as a reminder of our history." However, she neglected to show him the words the Admiral had written on it so long ago.

My father and mother gave the flag to me, but without hinting at the words written on it.  They said it was from The OLYMPIA.  After I witnessed the stirring centennial celebration on board The OLYMPIA this May, I looked once more at the flag.  It was then that I discovered the words Admiral Lamberton carefully inscribed on it.  I read them to you now:

"OLD GLORY April 14 1898 U.S.F.S. OLYMPIA BATTLE FLAG At Fore May 1 st 1898 At Main Aug. 13th 1898"

Now you know the history of the flag.  Lamberton knew it flew from the masts of this ship throughout the entire Philippine Campaign.  With his inscription 100 years ago, Lamberton assured we would know that, too.

Now, to great-grandfather Lamberton: I know you are here in spirit just as you were when you helped me uncover the words you wrote on this flag.  Admiral, you may now stand down from your eternal watch.  The flag is finally home.

Last, to Paul DeOrsay, Tim Hastings, and the Independence Seaport Museum staff-. it is obvious as we look around us today that you have done well in your efforts to restore this great ship to its former state of readiness.  I know there is much yet to do, but it is equally obvious that she will never again fall into the sad disrepair she once knew.  So, the time is right: this is the centennial year of the events this flag once observed; this ship is once again ready.  Therefore, it is with great honor and pride that, on behalf of the Lamberton family, past and present, I return the flag to The OLYMPIA.

Keep it and her safe always as a reminder of our history."

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