“Then, in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?” – Francis Scott Key
On July 4th, 1993, my then 11-year-old son, RJ and I woke up in the wee hours of the morning so that we could drive to the Snowy Range Mountains. The drive was about two hours and it took another 2 hours for us to hike to our intended destination. We spent most of the day fishing in the high mountain lakes. The fishing was fantastic.
After eating a delectable dinner, we pitched a small dome tent at the base of some massive mountain peaks. We rolled out our sleeping bags and hung our cell phone bag (we did not have an iphone 7 at the time) on the small hook located at the top of the tent. As the sun began to set, we called my wife and were so impressed with the then state-of-the-art technology that allowed us to talk to loved ones from such a remote location. If I recall correctly, the 10 minute phone call cost about $25.
That night a large thunderstorm collided with the mountain range. Enormous lightning bolts bounced back and forth (horizontally) between the mountain peaks. The thunder shook the earth beneath us. The storm lasted about 20 minutes and it had our complete attention for its entire duration. God provided the most magnificent 4th of July display that I have ever witnessed.
As I drifted off to sleep that night, my heart was full of gratitude for the opportunity to share such a remarkable experience with my son.
It was another display of sound and light that gave rise to the lyrics of our national anthem.
Francis Scott Key was an attorney, who in September of 1814 attempted to acquire the freedom of his client and friend Dr. William Beanes. Dr. Beanes was being held as a prisoner of war on the British ship HMS Tonnant. Francis Scott Key boarded the Tonnant on September 7, 1814 and successfully negotiated the release of Dr. Beanes and others being held by Britain.
However, while on board the Tonnant, Key learned about a plan to attack Fort McHenry (now known as the attack on Baltimore). He was held captive and not allowed to return to shore until after the British Navy completed the attack. Key watched the battle from another British ship.
The guns on board the British ships were much larger and could shoot their ordnance further than the guns located at Fort McHenry. On September 13, 1814, at 6:30 a.m., the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry. The British ships were beyond the range of Fort McHenry’s guns so return fire was not a concern to the red coats.
The attack upon Fort McHenry lasted for 25 hours. A thunderstorm provided additional light and noise to the commotion of the battle. Key was thrilled when, as the sun rose on September 14, 1814, he saw the flag that we now know as the Star-Spangled Banner flying from Fort McHenry. Shortly thereafter, he penned a poem entitled “The Defence of Fort McHenry”. The poem later became the lyrics to our National Anthem.
In February of 2013 my then 31-year-old son, RJ and I visited the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. where the Star-Spangled Banner is presently housed. It was a humbling privilege and honor to look upon the very same inspirational flag that Francis Scott Key saw so many years ago.
You are likely familiar with the first verse of our anthem, wherein the question of whether or not our flag continues to fly is asked. The second verse answers the question wherein Key sees the flag and declares: “O long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
It is the last verse of our National Anthem that I most appreciate because it is within this verse that Key acknowledges the power by which his and our cherished nation was and is protected and preserved:
“O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d 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!”
Happy Birthday America.