By Jacki Wood, written for the Nodaway News Leader
Two days after the horrific Boston Marathon bombing, the Boston Bruins took to the ice in the city’s first major sporting event since the attack. The Boston Fire Department Honor Guard, representing all of the city’s first responders, presented the colors and singer Rene Rancourt began singing the national anthem.
But after just a couple of phrases into the song, the entire crowd had joined in, singing so loudly and with such conviction, that Rancourt lowered the microphone and they all sang along together.
It was one of the most emotional renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” I have ever witnessed. The “USA!” chants that followed reminded how the country can come together united as one.
Not all experiences with the national anthem are that memorable, nor do they have to be. But each should have the respect of the performer as well as the crowd.
Some of my earliest memories of “The Star-Spangled Banner” came at Spoofhound football games. I remember really cold, dark nights, when my mom would bring these old blankets for us to bundle up in and hot cocoa in an old thermos we had. And I remember the Marching Spoofhounds taking the field and forming an “M” for the football players to run through. And then there was the national anthem. Everyone towering around me stood with their hand over their heart. I would stand up on the bleachers so I could see. And the crowd sang along. They always sang along.
So that’s what I grew up knowing. You always sing the national anthem.
I’ve noticed recently, however, that people aren’t doing that much anymore. I’ve seen it at high school ballgames and during the Olympics. I really loved those US gold-medal athletes who stood atop the podium and actually sang with the music.
But if you choose not to sing along, I can respect your feelings as long as you respect the flag and the anthem. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
I attended a high school basketball game last week and was standing directly across from the teams as local JROTC members presented the colors in the middle of the floor. I stood there singing when I noticed movement just left of the flag.
It was one of the athletes (not from the Nodaway County team), and she was quite distracting. She adjusted the spandex shorts underneath her uniform, first the left leg and then the right. Then she tugged at the left sleeve of her jersey and then the right. And finally, she pulled her headband down, let her hair out of her ponytail, pulled it back up and then readjusted her headband.
I fought hard to concentrate on the song and the words and the flag and what it all meant. And I felt badly for the student singing just a few feet from her.
I did not know the player, but I was embarrassed for her, her family, her school and her community. Had she not learned to be respectful or realize the significance of the national anthem? Or did she just not care?
Regardless, here’s the back story:
After a 25-hour onslaught of Fort McHenry by the British, the early morning light broke through on September 14, 1814, revealing the US flag still flying over the fort. Francis Scott Key looked out from the ship where he had been detained, seeing this sight, and then penned the words that would later become “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
By the 1890s, it had been adopted by US military forces for ceremonial purposes during the raising and lowering of the colors. And it officially became the national anthem in 1931 (The National Museum of American History).
The respect we should show is not just for the national anthem, but also for the flag. According to The Flag Code:
“To salute, all persons come to attention. Those in uniform give the appropriate formal salute. Citizens not in uniform salute by placing their right hand over the heart and men with head cover should remove it and hold it to left shoulder, hand over the heart….When the national anthem is played or sung, citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note. The salute is directed to the flag, if displayed, otherwise to the music” (usflag.org).
Henry Ward Beecher said: “A thoughtful mind, when it sees a Nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the Nation itself; and whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag the Government, the principles, the truths, the history which belongs to the Nation that sets it forth.”
I agree. And I believe the fans of that Boston Bruins game last year demonstrated that to the rest of us.