I recently watched a YouTube video of an 8-year old girl named Elizabeth Hughes singing the National Anthem at an AHL Norfolk Admirals game against the Connecticut Whale. Her youthful angelic voice filled the stadium until the sound system’s microphone malfunctioned. Being the trooper that she was she kept her composure and continued singing over the cackles of an inconsiderate female fan. The beauty and humanity of this untimely and unfortunate episode was the compassion shown by both hockey teams and the thousands of classy fans who joined in to help her finish. Without a live mic she completed the anthem receiving a rousing applause from the audience. Her ability to memorize and sing what some would consider one of the toughest pieces of music to perform was admirable!
Most adults have trouble remembering the words to our National Anthem. If you survey ten Americans and ask if they know all of the words to the first stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner, probably half are able to sing or recite it without verbally stumbling over a portion of it. During my tenure as Director of Student Life and Services, I remember asking one of my student workers if he could recite all of the words, his reply, “I don’t think so; I’m not really into sports that much.” His reply at first seemed amusing; however, I later felt a sense of embarrassment that some Americans believe the last words to National Anthem are, “Play Ball!”
Briefly, the Star-Spangled Banner is the National Anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from “Defense of Fort McHenry”, a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.
He and an American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner, boarded the British ship HMS Tonnant, to negotiate the release of American prisoners. He and Skinner watched helplessly as American prisoners awaited their untimely execution. Key watched the battle unfurl. When the smoke cleared, he was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. Aboard the ship the next day Key wrote a poem documenting the victory he’d witnessed. Those words later became our National Anthem. I sing it with a great sense of pride. It brings me to tears with its powerful and moving lyrics. I’ve taken the liberty to write my personal interpretation of this anthem of defiance and courage.
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
(I can see the battle much clearer now that dawn is nearing)
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
(Our troops are still battling the British)
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
(Fighting for freedom not yet defeated)
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
(Our flag still hails )
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
(The battle rages, soldiers bravely fighting a just cause)
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
(and behold we are victorious!)
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
(Our nation’s flag continues to fly proudly over every man, woman and child)
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
(Over our homeland we stand proud – ready to defend – the United States of America)
Powerful words! I end with this quote: “God had a divine purpose in placing this land between two great oceans to be found by those who had a special love of freedom and courage.” Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America