By Marsha M. Brown
A young man in his thirty’s “after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay” (Wikipedia) was so inspired by the sights and sounds, that he wrote a patriotic, poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” in 1814. It was then put to music by John Stafford Smith and later officially embraced as our national anthem “The Star – Spangled Banner”.
It’s a song that we’ve all heard over and over again but have we ever really heard it? Do we ever take the time to digest what he was saying or how he might have felt at the time he wrote it? If we were quizzed on the song that commands national respect, would we know enough to pass it? Would our children or grandchildren? Would we remember that it was written by Frances Scott Key who was an amateur poet? Or that he was a 35 years old lawyer at the time?
In Committee planning and discussion for the upcoming November 3rd, “A Salute to Veterans” event at Manteo First Assembly, it became veryclear that “The Star – Spangled Banner” is and should always be the first music we hear at any special event…military or otherwise. Not being able to recall all of the words, (shame on me), I decided to look at the lyrics again in their entirety.
I remembered there were four stanzas though most of us usually recall only the first. Researching the origin of it, I read about what inspired Mr. Key to compose such meaningful words. I couldn’t help but picture him staring at the sky back then. I thought about the loss of life, the sacrifice and the valor. I thought about how our nation made a stand. I considered that in 1814 when he wrote what turned out to be our national anthem, it was much like today in 2012 when battles for freedom, honor and security should always matter.
Like most and being more familiar with the first stanza, my eyes fell to the second. I read through and the words and I saw “…full glory” and “…long may she wave” which made it clear to me the author was hoping our flag and perhaps our country too would survive. His hope was there, his prayer was evident.
In the third stanza, the words “blood” and “refuge” stood out to me. Then seeing the words “terror of flight” and “the gloom of the grave” yet – it continued on with hope. In my opinion it seemed that considering the dying and the brave, Mr. Key hoped the sacrifice would be worth it in the end.
Lastly, in stanza four…beginning with line six through to the end…
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star – spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Heartfelt and from the depths of his being, Frances Scott Key took it all in and shared it with the world. And speaking of God, well, plain and simple, His word and His name have been spoken, prayed and read on many battlefields.
Each time I write GIG LINE, I ask my sweetie pie husband Billy – a Vietnam veteran – to listen while I proof read it out loud. His opinion matters…it matters a lot. His love for our country, respect for our military and commitment to honor fellow veterans for the rest of his life…is my influence.
Billy’s response was prompt and deliberate. He said “All of the words in “The Star – Spangled Banner” matter especially the first stanza” which reads like this –
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star – spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Staring at the floor and never looking up, Billy said very seriously that when the ship he was on en route to Vietnam drew close to the coast, he and his buddies were standing on the deck. Together, shoulder to shoulder they could see first hand “the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air”…literally. He said it was then, more so than before, that they all pondered their fate.
Phrases like “This is real.” and “It’s happening.” were expressed openly and without reservation by the soldiers and more than once.
Almost 200 years ago, Frances Scott Key famously summarized on paper his account of history in the making. The relevance of his descriptive words became all too familiar to the eyes and ears of Billy and his comrades in 1968.
Billy explained that as they prepared to make their way off the transport toward the beach seeing a ceiling of red sky, they were all “paralyzed with fear”. However, knowing it was “the real deal” with no more drills; no more anticipation, they “moved forward determined to get the job done”. God bless our veterans…all of them everywhere.
Until next time, be happy, be safe, be proud and stay tuned…