By Gary DeBoard
A little less than 2 weeks ago more than a third of our country, some 111 million people, watched what has undoubtedly become America’s new past time, football. The Superbowl has quickly evolved into a national holiday that is not actually a national holiday. The pomp and circumstance of the game itself is magnitudes of order bigger than any other sporting event in the world with the exception of the Olympics. But as big as the festivities are, some things very honorably remain the same.
One of my favorite parts about American sports is the one thing they all have in common. No matter the age, sport, or venue, the most unique and indelible thing is done before every game- the singing of the national anthem. Seared into the consciousness of every American sports goer are those most inspiring words, “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Being someone who deeply loves and appreciates the history behind those words, I find that one of the most noble things we Americans still do is stand, remove our hats, and in silence, ponder those words as we gaze upon our flag as Francis Scott Key once did in a very different situation.
It was two years after the War of 1812 had begun. The fighting between the still fledgling patriots of America and the established british army was not going well for the Americans. The capitol city had been taken and itself lay in burned ruins. On Great Britain’s march through Washington they moved to capture the great American city of Baltimore. At a pivotal point during the Battle of Baltimore, the British bombarded Fort McHenry during a rainy night in 1814. Key was prisoner on a British ship after learning of the bombardment plans. He watched from that ship as the night continually erupted in fire and explosion as the British unmercifully pounded the American strong hold. Key was sure that the American flag flying over the fort would be changed out for the British Union Jack by the morning- the sign of American defeat. But as dawn revealed night’s secrets, he was shocked to find the flag still flying, though torn and tattered. He would start his poem aboard the british ship and later finish it in a hotel room. Within months, it would be recognized as the Star Spangled Banner.
One can almost see and hear the vivid sights and sounds that Key wrote down, “…the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air..” The words themselves not only inspire, but serve as a historical record of what actually happened. The dawn revealed that we had held.
Today at a museum in Washington DC you can still gaze on the same flag that gave Key his moment of brilliant inspiration. Amazingly, almost unthinkably, you can still see the tatters, holes, and dirt from a different time. The flag itself unashamedly bares the marks of war. One could stand there for hours, look upon its worn threads and still not grasp the immensity of the sight before them.
But if like me you long for an America who would see that flag with a kind of pride and sense of nobility that actually made a difference, then you, like me were encouraged to see at least for a moment, 70,000 people stand to their feet and 111 million more listen in silence as those words were sung in all their splendor as our flag waved high. Truly, God bless America.