Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day Speech: What the Star Spangled Banner means to me....

By popular request, here is the Veteran's Day speech I gave today at a local middle school. This was the original script and I am positive that I did not stick to it, but since I can't really remember what else I said, this will have to do;)

What the Star Spangled Banner means to me….

I am a soldier. A retired soldier, true, but once an army chick- always an army chick. I have heard this song sung more times than I can count and honestly it doesn’t matter where or when or who sings it, it stops me in my tracks.

Just last week, we were in Cancun, Mexico for a wedding. The resort we were staying at played the World Series every night on the beach (by the way, watching baseball is WAY more enjoyable on the beach!) One night, we were walking out to meet some friends by the pool and heard the National Anthem being played. Call it training, call it conditioning, or, simply call it patriotism. I stopped..middle of the sidewalk, tons of people behind me, put my hand over my heart and sang along. You see, it may be just a song, but to me it represents so much more. It represents the freedoms that our American military fight so hard to protect. It represents a way of life that I thank God for daily. It represents triumph over oppression.

Just in case you don’t know the history behind this song, let me give you the short version. “The Star Spangled Banner” was written by a man named Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 fought between the British and the Americans (as well as the French and Indians.) There were many causes of this war, but a lot of it boiled down to a desire to uphold national honor for a relatively young nation.

At this point in the war, the Americans weren’t doing so well. We had already lost control of the capital. The White House had been burned and looted and the entire government was on the run. The British had set their sights on the Baltimore harbor, but they had to take Fort McHenry, the point defensive station for the Harbor.

The attack on Fort McHenry began on September 13, 1814 and lasted nearly 25 hours. The British hurled 1500-1800 canonballs at the fort. The Fort repelled two land assaults and on the morning of September 14, 1814, the soldiers at Fort McHenry took down the standard storm flag…torn and shredded by the raging battle and raised a huge 30 ft X 42 ft American flag.

Now a lot of that you may have already known, right? How many of you knew much of this? Good! But did you know that Francis Scott Key was in the harbor on a British ship? No? He was. He was on a mercy mission negotiating the release of an American doctor who was being held as a British prisoner. He was carrying letters from wounded British officers praising the care they had received from this doctor. The British released the doctor, but they had to stay with the British until the attack was over. On the morning of the 14th, Key saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry, and began writing the verses on the back of one of the letters. It was originally known as a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.”

So now that you know more of the story, let’s look at the words again. Did you know that we traditionally only sing the first verse of the “Star Spangled Banner?” Anyone know how verses there are? There are four. Here is the song in its entirety.

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
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?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
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!

Every time I hear the words of this poem, I am struck by the sense of total elation that must of come over Key when caught the first gleam of that flag.

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Can you imagine? The White House has been burned and looted. Washington, DC is completely destroyed and the enemy is marching on our major sea ports. If Baltimore Harbor falls, the entire East Coast is lost. And after an entire day and an entire night of bombs exploding, rockets firing, and people shooting at one another, you are sure all is lost. The country will be retaken by the British.

There is so much smoke from all the cannon fire that you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. You look over the edge of the ship you are on and can barely see the water. You are peering, focusing, straining your eyes, looking for that storm and fire battered flag through the smog and darkness. Over the horizon the sun rises, and in the distance, you see OUR flag waving.

You see in the military world we have guidons. Does anyone know what a guidon is? A guidon is a flag that symbolizes your unit. During battle, it is the rallying point for the troops to fall into formation. The guidon bearer is a soldier selected with the specific duty to carry that flag into battle. Being selected as the guidon bearer is a big deal. It is a position of great honor and responsibility, and the guidon bearer accepts this responsibility to never let the guidon fall, even if he must die to protect it. Because as long as the guidon flies, our unit still exists, still triumphs. THAT is what the American flag is. It is this country’s guidon. Our rallying point, our common shout that despite our differing backgrounds and beliefs, we are blessed to live in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

As long as it flies, it is a symbol that this country is triumphant and strong. The Star Spangled Banner is so much more to me than a song. It is a cry of triumph, a shout of joy, and a roar of pride that our country is great and mighty. It was the same for Francis Scott Key, who was on the verge of losing his country in battle, just as it is the same for us today.

So think about this the next time you hear the Star Spangled Banner. Stopping, hand over heart, and standing at attention is not only a sign of your respect for our country, but a way to honor and join in that cry of triumph. Each time you see our flag, try to understand importance of it waving freely over our ballparks and our schools and our homes.

And remember the last verse, my favorite verse, because this poem wasn’t just about that one fateful night, it was about continuing victory of this country.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
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!

We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave because men and women for the last several hundred years have chosen to fight for it. Have given up their blood, sweat and tears for it. So that the guidon doesn’t fall. So that you can still rally here beneath this flag. Take some time today, this Veteran’s Day, to remind yourself how blessed you are because of those sacrifices….and then go out and make it a point to say, “Thank you,” to someone who has or is serving. They deserve it. Thank you for the honor of speaking to you today. God bless America and God bless you!


Below is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with both the first and last verses. I love this version!

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