Cicadas hum in the background; barefoot kids run and squeal with excitement as families gather around the country for their local parades and fireworks during Fourth of July celebrations. I look forward to it every year, especially the goose bumps that come when the local band or station plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the night's festivities.
When the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written nearly 200 years ago, we were a nation at war. The War of 1812 — a war we fought against the British — had been raging for more than two years. In September 1814, Francis Scott Key watched as the British attacked Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore. After a night of intense bombing, he was heartened — and maybe a little surprised — to see the U.S. flag proudly flying over the fort. Key was so moved by the sight, he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The War of 1812 unified the country and gave Americans a sense of pride that would help make us who we are today. And it gave us a song that will forever recall our strength, our determination and the fierce independence that defines us as Americans.
In conflicts since that time, from the American Civil War, through the world wars and recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the “Star-Spangled Banner” has maintained its role as a unifier. It is also a reminder of the country we love, the conflicts fought to preserve our freedom and how Americans support our fighting men and women, and the families they often leave behind.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” doesn't just strengthen us in times of war; it carries us in times of peace as well. It is the song many of us learned to sing during those first few jittery days of kindergarten. As we gather to watch our favorite sporting events, it is the song that hushes the crowd.
And it is the song often used to welcome in a new president during the inauguration. It gives us hope in a different and better future. It is part of the fabric of our lives and a reminder of what it means to be American.
We all celebrate the Fourth of July in our own special way, but we are united in our love for our country. It serves as a reminder of the privileges and benefits we enjoy as Americans and the sacrifices made in the name of freedom.
This year, as we approach the 200-year anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” take a moment to reflect on our once young, struggling country and the song that evoked such pride in Americans — a pride that still resonates within us 200 years later.
By Rosemary Freitas Williams
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy
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