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Oh, 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!
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s famous poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry” — what we know today as “The Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States of America. The story of how the song came to be is legendary — and it’s a tale that wide-eyed schoolchildren could once recite with awe and pride.
Key, an American lawyer in his mid-30s, was onboard a ship watching an attack by the Royal Navy on Fort McHenry during the waning days of The War of 1812. Before the sun had gone down that September evening and darkness would engulf the salty air of Baltimore Harbor, the last gleam of twilight left a lone American flag flying proudly over the pummeled fort. But things didn’t look good for our defenses or for our nation. Over the course of just a few years, enemy forces had already occupied Washington DC — burning down the White House and laying siege to the halls of Congress and other hallowed institutions. The forces of tyranny were on the march. Would the American experiment survive?
The terrifying battle raged on through the long dark night, the red glare of rockets and the explosions bursting overhead providing the only illumination as to what was happening onshore. But when the early light of dawn finally broke through the thick shroud of gunpowder and smoke, Mr. Key could see from his perch on deck that Star Spangled Banner’s broad stripes and bright stars were still flying — proof that America had survived the perilous fight. The flag was still there.
And now, two hundred years later, as we are faced with threats to our freedom and the way of life so many of us cherish, we are still left with Francis Scott Key’s enduring question: “Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave… O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
We pause this morning to mark that day 200 years ago, and to remember those great words that have long inspired millions of people all over the world: the “Star Spangled Banner” — the national anthem of the greatest nation on earth. May God continue to bless the United States of America.