We’ve all seen them. The funny, if not embarrasing, YouTube videos of amateurs and professionals alike, singing the National Anthem…and messing up the words. Notwithstanding nerves, many have been ridiculed for not remembering this nation’s most famous song.
I don’t think it’s about memory so much as it’s a lack of understanding of the olde English words, originally written as a poem. What if the performers knew the story behind those words?
The year was 1814. The War of 1812 was raging on by both land and sea, when the White House was burned to the ground by the British, forcing President Madison and his wife Dolly, into hiding. After torching Washington, the Redcoats took Dr. William Beanes captive on their march back to their ships. He was accused of harrassment, specifically because he had jailed two drunken British soldiers.
Friends of Dr. Beanes enlisted the help of local lawyer (and amateur poet) Francis Scott Key to negotiate his release. Key and mutual friend Colonel Skinner, sailed in a small cartel boat down the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Maryland towards the H.M.S. Tonnant where Dr. Beanes was being held.
The British Admiral agreed to the release of all three of the men ~ after the British attacked Fort McHenry.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Baltimore were preparing for an imminent attack. They dug a mile-long trench along one of the roads that led to the city, sunk barges in the mouth of the river to slow enemy boats and had every American on full alert throughout the night. And a new flag was flying over Fort McHenry. Massive in size (42 ft. x 38 ft.), it could be seen for miles off the coast.
On the dawn of Sept 13th, the bombardment from 16 British ships began. Francis was on the deck of the Tonnant when the fighting began, but the sound of the Congreve rockets, mortar rounds (which sounded like bombs when exploding) and cannon balls were deafening, forcing him to take refuge below.
At dusk, Francis made his way back up onto the deck and watched as the fort was pummeled by gunfire. “Can you see the flag?” came the question from one of his comrades below. The acrid smoke and torrential rain made it hard to see, but the red glare of rockets lit the night sky, illuminating the fort. Although drooping from the rain, the flag was still there.
By dawn, the fight was over. The trio knew that if the American flag was flying, we had won the battle. From his vantage point on the ship, Francis strained to see the Stars and Stripes. It was still there, waving proudly.
It was at that moment, that Francis Scott Key pulled an envelope from his pocket and penned the first couple of verses to what we now know as The Star Spangled Banner.
Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light
what so proudly we hailed (saw) at the twighlight’s last gleeming (last bit of light)
whose broad (wide) stripes and bright stars through the perilous (dangerous) fight,
o’er (over) the ramparts (walls) we watched, were so gallantly (proudly) streaming (waving)?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air
gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there.
Oh say does that star-spangled (decorated) banner (flag) yet (still) wave,
o’er (over) the land of the free, and the home of the brave?
Thank you, to all the men and women who have sacrificed to make and keep our country free. God, bless the United States of America as her citizens honor You.