by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.
Our national anthem — most of us know the words, but have we all pondered their meaning? Many of us probably only know the words of the first verse since that is the verse we sing. Frances Scott Key’s poem, however, actually has four verses!Recently I received an email with a link to a powerful dramatic rendition (click to listen) telling the story that led to the writing of our national song — with details that I had never heard before.
Now some will argue that the facts told in this telling might not all be true since some of the details have not been recorded in history books. And I can’t shed any certain light to these questions. Regardless, I want to review some of these details because whether embellished or not, listening to this story has caused me to ask myself some significant and worthy questions about my own patriotism.
In this rendition, it says Frances Scott Key was sent to negotiate a mutual exchange of American and British prisoners. After successfully reaching an agreement while on board the British ship, he was not allowed to return to shore because of an imminent attack soon to be launched on Fort McHenry.
The storyteller describes an arrogant British ship captain who is quite certain of the fall of Fort McHenry to the mighty British fleet. And this captain suggests the negotiations would soon be meaningless because once Fort McHenry surrenders, Key and the American prisoners on board would once again be under British rule.
The story tells of Frances Scott Key expressing his concern to this British captain that Fort McHenry is predominantly not a military fort and includes many American citizens —- men, women and children. But the British officer tells Key that the citizens were given an ultimatum assuring them that if they lowered the American flag and surrendered, the shelling would stop and their lives would be spared.
After hours and hours of relentless bombing throughout the night, the British captain is mystified and exclaims to Frances Scott Key, “This is an impossible situation.” He could not understand why the citizens would not surrender and save their lives. Then the storyteller shares a quote he attributes to George Washington: “The thing that separates the American Christian from every other person on earth is the fact that he would rather die on his feet, than live on his knees.”
Twenty-five hours later, the British stop the attack and retreat from the shores of Fort McHenry. By morning’s light, the American flag — although in shreds and its pole leaning — is still flying.
This story goes on to tell of Frances Scott Key’s return to the Fort where he learns how the citizen soldiers kept the flag flying even though it had taken countless direct hits. The storyteller relates that the citizens knew all too well what it would mean if the flag was allowed to fall, and they knew — at all costs — the flag must remain high in the sky. The citizens held the flagpole in place, even though they were under constant threat of death as the flag and flagpole continued to receive direct fire. Many died to keep the American flag flying.
I can’t help but ask myself, “Am I willing to make such a sacrifice? Am I willing to stand up for something greater than self — an ideal, a hope, a vision — and would I sacrifice my life to ensure those ideals live on for the benefit of others”
It occurs to me that there are Americans who are willing and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice throughout the history of this great country. Today, our military consists solely of citizens who have volunteered and are willing to sacrifice their lives in service to our country — to preserve our freedom and protect their fellow citizens.
I pray that I be worthy of their sacrifices. I pray that I would do the same for them in an hour of need. And I pray that I never forget the sacrifices of all the Americans who have given their lives so you and I can be free today.
God bless “the land of the free and the home of the brave!” God bless America!