O say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave?
It happens every time, but perhaps more so at the American Legion dance in Benson. My husband, Milton, plays in a band. Once a month we play the Benson American Legion. The Legion is a great place with a lively and diverse crowd that’s fun to be with. Most honored (and rightly so) among this group are the veterans- veterans of wars recent and wars long past, going all the way back to World War II. In fact, the dance at Benson began during World War II, which makes it the longest running dance in eastern North Carolina.
The band starts playing at eight o’clock, but before the dance begins we stand for the playing of the National Anthem. When the familiar notes ripple out in rousing harmony the crowd rises to their feet, and I scan the room around me, watching the older veterans. Some rise slowly, with obvious effort. Gone is the litheness of youth. But present still is a spirit full of life. They stand, with shoulders squared and eyes turned reverently toward the large flag held by a fellow vet. Their gaze does not waver. Their expression reveals love, loyalty, and pride in the country they served. And that’s when it happens. As I stand with hand over heart, to this most patriotic of rituals I feel the familiar response .... goosebumps appear on my arms, my scalp prickles, and a tremendous pride in this country and love for its people wells up within me. In a few minutes, the splendid notes fade away, the crowd enthusiastically cheers and the night’s entertainment begins. Next month we will salute the flag again, and I’ll feel the very same way.
Some of you are aware that my family and I moved here from England several decades ago. I’m the bridge generation in my family: my Dad served in England’s Royal Navy and my son served in the United States Navy, so I have ties to both countries. I’ll always love my native homeland, but America is home and I’m honored and proud to pledge allegiance to this wonderful country.
I’ve wanted to write this column for several years. But what to say about America that hasn’t already been said? I could write endless pages on its beauty: Ocracoke’s quaint village and pristine beaches, Maine’s eye-poppingly gorgeous coastline, Utah’s majestic mountains and golden Aspen glades, Chicago’s fascinating Lake Shore Drive, Texas fields full of wildflowers, Florida’s endless blue waters, South Carolina’s peach trees and swimming holes (in my opinion South Carolina peaches are the best!), Louisiana’s bayous, and Virginia’s historic towns... and this names only a few highlights.
America’s scenic beauty is equally matched by her people- a people independent, brave, original, creative and adventurous. Still more admirable is this nation’s open-heartedness and kindness; and tragedy-stricken people the world over have been the recipients of this national generosity.
No, America is not perfect- but when I moved here I didn’t expect it to be. But neither did I expect the overwhelmingly warm welcome, love and care showered upon us by our new neighbors and friends. We were (and still are) truly thankful for the generous, caring spirit of America’s people... the neighbor who’s quick to share fresh produce from their garden, the neighbor who left a watermelon on your front porch while you were out (what a nice greeting to come home to!), the neighbor who brings you chicken soup when you’re sick, the neighbor who takes care of your pet while you’re out of town. What a wonderful thing to live amongst people like this. This, then, is why I love America. Yes, it’s beautiful with its "amber waves of grain", "purple mountain majesties" and "shining seas", but most beautiful of all is its people. America is still a truly blessed nation.
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
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?
Yes, thank God, the Star Spangled Banner yet waves.