Oh Say Can You See

A while back, I was driving to work one morning and listening to KPBS Radio (NPR) when I heard a feature that brought tears to my eyes. The story focused on a group of kids from a local private elementary school singing and talking about the origins of the National Anthem.

The project they were engaged in was inspired by the National Anthem Project, a national education endeavor designed to teach America’s youth the words and history of the National Anthem. The National Anthem Project began after a poll that found only 2 out of 3 Americans knew the words to The Star-Spangled Banner. Now I credit myself as a history buff, but even I didn’t know a few pieces of trivia behind the song that’s sung at ball games and graduations across the country.

Here a few facts about our National Anthem you may not have known:

FACT #1 – Francis Scott Key did not write The Star-Spangled Banner as a song, but rather as one verse of a poem.

FACT #2 – The Star-Spangled Banner was not written about the Revolutionary War, which we celebrate on Independence Day. In fact, it was written during the War of 1812; a war with the British, but not the one that inspired the July 4th holiday.

FACT #3 – The Star-Spangled Banner did not become America’s national anthem until 1931.

FACT #4 – The verse that’s sung during baseball games and ceremonies is only the first of four verses of the song.

FACT #5 – Ramona Quimby thought “dawn’s early light” was actually “dawnser” and began calling lamps “dawnsers.” Okay this one isn’t really significant, but the reference to The Star-Spangled Banner in a Ramona Quimby book is my earliest memory of the anthem.

Going back to the radio feature – I know I’m a sap. But hearing these young kids talk about the importance of The Star-Spangled Banner and listening to them sing got my tears flowing. I was left with such a sense of pride for these students. What a small, but important, thing they were learning. It made me realize how much I want Sophie to have the type of education where she is taught the significance of our nation’s anthem.

So on this Fourth of July when you listen to The Star-Spangled Banner as the bombs (read: fireworks) burst in the air, remember the meaning of these words and what they represent. And tell your friends/neighbors/children a fact they may not know to keep the history of our anthem remembered.

The Star-Spangled Banner, 1814

Words by Francis Scott Key, Music by John Stafford Smith

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 rocket’s 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! O 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 homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heaven-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!

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