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Tearing up as our flag passes by
Our heroes are those who act above and beyond the call of duty, and in so doing give definition to patriotism and elevate all of us. America is the land of the free because we are the home of the brave.
— David Mahoney
I cannot offer an adequate explanation for the flood of strong emotions that overtake me when I see our nation’s flag or watch a Navy jet fly overhead, but my reaction is completely predictable. I look forward to those hand-on-my-heart, tears-in-my-eyes reactions at the start of each Fourth of July parade here in Oak Harbor.
I think our flag is beautiful and my appreciation grew enormously the day we visited the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine some years ago. Constructed in 1776 and strategically located on Whetstone Point outside Baltimore, Md., this star-shaped fort, surrounded on three sides by water, had already proven its value to the residents of Baltimore when British warships amassed off her coast in the summer of 1814.
England’s war with France began involving the U.S. when her desire to regulate high seas American shipping and to locate British deserters was inciting skirmishes at lakes Erie and Champlain, and along the Atlantic seaboard. But it was after the British Navy had captured Baltimore’s much loved physician Dr. William Beanes, to take him as a prisoner of war upon their flagship, the Tonnant, that we first learn of Francis Scott Key, creator of our national anthem.
A prominent Baltimore lawyer and well-known Christian, and praised for his peaceful approaches to conflict resolution in the courts, Mr. Key arranged to have Col. John Skinner, an American agent for prisoner exchange, accompany him. Together they set sail aboard a sloop flying a flag of truce to propose the release of Dr. Beanes, who was sure to be hanged in due time.
While Key successfully negotiated with the British for Dr. Beanes’ release, at one point producing a pouch of letters from wounded British prisoners praising the care they were receiving from the Americans, officials at Fort McHenry braced for future bombardment.
One year earlier they had commissioned Baltimore seamstress Mary Young Pickersgill and her 13-year-old daughter Caroline to create a flag the British would have no trouble seeing from a distance. They produced a flag measuring 30 by 42-feet, made from their best wool bunting. It included two-feet wide stripes and 15 stars that were two feet tall from point to point.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 13, 1814, the flag was raised over the fort as the British bombardment began. A safe distance away Beanes, Key and Skinner watched with anxiety for 25 hours as the battle waged. Not knowing exactly how the campaign was progressing and frustrated by his inability to further serve his country, Key turned to the two activities that provided him the most peace: praying and writing religious verse.
When dawn revealed an American flag still flying high and retreating British forces, it is said that Key began writing on the back of an old envelope. From his euphoria came “The Star Spangled Banner,” although at the time Key titled his four-versed work, “The Defense of Fort McHenry.”
His passionate verses were set into print by an enthusiastic brother-in-law and eventually made their way into newspapers throughout the States. On March 3, 1931, the verse became our national anthem and was set to the tune, “Anacreon in Heaven.”
To stand at Fort McHenry and listen to a historian retell the tale is not to be missed. Neither is the understanding that most of the key players in our early history were as passionate about their young country as they were about their Christian faith. They were principled and public in their beliefs.
May freedom ring and patriotism grow. May future generations thrill by the site of the flag and whisper a prayer of thanks for all we have in this nation of ours.