In September of 1814, British troops invaded at Washington, DC and burned the Capitol, Treasury, president's mansion and other government buildings. During their wihdrawal, they took captive an elderly physician named William Beanes. Dr. Beanes was a personal friend of a Maryland attorney named Francis Scott Key.
Key (1779---1843) was commissioned to help secure the release of Dr. Beanes, who was being held aboard a British naval vessel. Under a flag of truce, Key sailed to the British fleet. Once aboard, his request to release the prisoner was granted.
But before they were allowed to return to the mainland, Key and Dr. Beanes were forced to stay aboard the vessel as the British fleet prepared to bombard Fort McHenry as a prelude to an invasion of Baltimore.
All during the long night of September 13 and 14, Key watched helplessly as the mighty British navy poured hundreds of cannon shot upon the fort. And all night long, Key wondered if the huge American flag that flew atop the fort would still be there in the morning, signifying that the fort had held.
By dawn's early light, he had his answer---the flag was still there. The British attack had been repulsed.
On the evening of September 16, Key composed a poem about the experience. The next day, the poem was printed on a handbill in Baltimore and titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry". A few weeks later, he changed the title to "The Star Spangled Banner", and set the tune "To Anachreon in Heaven", a well known tune of the day.
On October 19, 1814, the song was first performed at the Baltimore theatre.
For many years, it was one of a number of popular patriotic songs. It gained in popularity during the Civil War, when Union troops sang it often; and became even more popular in following decades.
In 1895, army regulations required that the song be played at the raising and lowering of colors at the nation's military bases. In 1931, Congress officially adopted the song as the national anthem.
Now, we all know the first verse of the anthem, because we hear it repeatedly at events like athletic contests. But, the song has four verses---the last of which is the most important in that it ties the entire theme of the poem together and describes what Key thought we stand for as a nation.
I bring this up today because, as we remember the events of 9-11-01, it seems to me that this verse and this song are so meaningful.
Oh, thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with victory 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 doth wave,
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!