Today is Memorial Day. A day set aside to remember those who gave their lives for my freedom. A memorial to them. Not so much for our veterans, or those serving now. They are implied, though, because I think of their willingness to do the same. But today, it's for the ones who gave it all, for me.
And I do think of them, not just today, but often. Because I love my freedom and hold it very dear. People who I don't know paid for my freedom. And my heart is moved deeply with the debt that I owe.
When I was a very young woman I was sent off for a bit of education. Prayer and the Bible had been taken out of public schools when I was just a little girl, and now it was the late seventies. There was a rustling across America as God was raising up Christian schools to answer a great need. I was a part of all that. Four of us from my home church were sent off for training.
While there, I heard a message preached by David C. Gibbs. He was an attorney, not a preacher, but preach he did. The message was more of a history lesson than a dissertation from the Word of God. But that message changed my life and molded who I am. I'll recount it for you here as briefly as possible and as accurately as I can remember. Please know that history is not my strong suit, and if there is an error in the facts, it is mine alone. The seventies were a long time ago. :)
Francis Scott Key was a lawyer during the time that a very young America was still fighting the British for our independence. He was commissioned to go on board an enemy ship in a port in Baltimore to negotiate with a British Admiral for a prisoner exchange. To his delight, the talks went well, and the exchange was agreed upon. He asked if he might go down into the hull of the ship and tell the young American boys being held that their freedom was imminent. That was granted, as well.
Mr. Key was allowed down into a dungeon-like area deep in the belly of the ship. It was dimly lit, as the only sources of light were the cracks in the boards that made up the ceiling and walls. But he was able to make out the bodies of hundreds of boys, many very broken physically. Some, he knew would not live through the night. They were chained together, and for every third or fourth one, there was a chain that was attached to the floor.
He introduced himself and announced his news. A cheer went up from the boys able to do so. But then, the response that he did not expect: The boys wanted to know news of the battle (which, by the way, was not going very well. Washington DC lay in ruins). And they wanted to know how soon they could return to battle.
Mr. Key tried to tell those boys that they had already paid the ultimate price and that they would return to their families as heroes, but the boys wanted none of that. "Get us out of here so we can fight!" was the message from the captives.
Mr. Key returned to speak to the Admiral with great urgency, as he now knew that every hour's delay would cost more of those wounded boy's lives. But he met with an Admiral who now spoke with a different tone. He told Mr. Key that the prisoner exchange was no longer relevant, because this foolishness and rebellion called America would no long exist by morning. He had just gotten word that an English fleet with strength like no other was approaching just over the horizon. He had been assured that the flag flying over Fort McHenry would come down before the dawning of the morning, and that this folly of independence would be over!
With an exceedingly heavy heart, Mr. Key returned to the prison to relay the news. The news that the release was not to happen after all. And again, the response was not what he expected from those suffering boys. The shouts were louder and greater than the previous ones.
"NO! Mr. Key, you cannot let that happen! That flag CANNOT come down! That is the flag that we buried our brothers with! That flag is about America. That flag is God breathed! Too many have died. The cost is too great!"
"Don't worry about us, Mr. Key; it's not about us. It's about that flag! It's about those who we love. About those who we are fighting for. Our families MUST remain free! Free to worship our God! Free to follow Him alone! Please, Mr. Key, go tell our brothers to fight with everything they have to keep that flag flying!"
"Oh, and Mr. Key. We need to know! PLEASE give us word! Shout between the floorboards above us. We will be waiting. Please don't forget us! We NEED to know what happens tonight. Please watch over that flag for us!"
Mr. Key went back above and waited. Within hours, the onslaught began, and it was unlike anything he could have ever imagined. The sound was deafening, and he could not see anything in the darkness except for the fire from the cannons and the thick, dense smoke.
As the hours passed, the boys below shouted for news. "Is the flag still flying, Mr. Key? Please tell us!" "I don't know, boys. The smoke is too thick and I cannot see", came his reply. "Mr. Key, focus on the flag in the red glare of the rockets. You will see! Is it still there?" After a great time came his response. "Yes, boys, I see it! The flag still flies!"
History teaches us that the flag DID come down during that night, and that brave men gave their lives to replace it with a second one. Their bodies were found at the base of it. And in the morning, it still flew. No one had ever withstood the bombardment of that great British fleet before, but God gave the victory and America remained free. Later, Francis Scott Key wrote down his thoughts about what he had witnessed and his conversation with those boys. Those words became what we call our National Anthem.
I don't think that there has been a time since I heard that message that I've stood before my flag with my hand over my heart, renewing my pledge, that I have not thought of those boys with a heart filled with gratefulness and indebtedness. Many tears writing this.
God, please help and bless the America that I love!
The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key 1814
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
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