In thinking back through childhood, there are times that I remember being really proud of being American, of my country, of what it stands for, what it means. Those were the times that awakened my patriotism and love for my country.
One was 4th of July parades, fireworks, brass bands and picnics; waving little flags and sparklers till late in the evenings. Long before dusk, me and my brothers were fat with watermelon, hamburgers, snow cones and coca-cola (we were allowed to eat in those days). Others were Memorial and Armed Forces days, climbing around on tanks and jeeps, driving off invisible enemies with a proud band of 8-year-olds, turning back the Nazis wave by wave.
But the most potent, for me at least, was always the anthem at the baseball games. I remember being at the Dodgers games when that anthem was sung, and every soul would stand as one. Men would take off their hats, and hold them over their hearts (there were some guys that that was about the only time you’d ever see them take off their hat). Everyone else would take their hand and place it over their heart, and whisper the words…
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air;
Gave proof thro’ 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?
There were no divisions during those bright few seconds so precious to Americans; no rich or poor, no immigrant and native, no brown or white. We were in those fleeting moments, all American.
I’m not sure there was ever a time when I felt so American; so unified and like one of the people with everyone else. At the end of the song, everyone would always clap and yell and whistle, and go back to the greatest game ever played in the history of the world. And a hot dog. If Dad was feeling it he’d break down and get us some popcorn, or cotton candy. We’d usually fade by the 6th or 7th inning, and because I was the youngest, I’d usually get carried back to the car, half asleep, half dreaming. With flags and stars and baseball glory in my eyes.
It wasn’t until much later, when I read the Star-Spangled Banner for the first time, that I came to receive the true power of it, the magnitude of its depth.
If you will, read the last stanza and see if it has the power for you that it’s had for me.
O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause 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!