Memorial Day Means So Much More than Racing ~ 2017
Arlington National Cemetery
This saga is posted annually on Race Fans Forever, as a favor to the United States of America, and you, our readers…
I bid you welcome gentle readers, to one of the most important tales you might ever hear, and I mean that sincerely. Some of you know that I have been a stickler for proper presentation of The Star Spangled Banner, our National Anthem, for years on end. Perhaps that comes from being a child throughout the Second World War and being raised in a time when patriotism was the norm, not an anomaly. On Memorial Day weekend, the Anthem takes on an even more special meaning, as we pause to honor our war dead… from every war… those that made the supreme sacrifice so that our flag might always continue to wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Yes, Memorial Day weekend brings racing; many years it brings great and astounding racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway, but even those two great racing venues pause to remember those that gave their lives so that we are free to gather together for a race whenever we choose. It has been said that a man does not know freedom until he has tasted slavery. Be thankful you never had to pay that price… someone else paid it for you.
The forty-plus years of hearing the rich, mellow voice of Jim Nabors at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to an end a couple of years ago. This year, for the 101st running of the Indy 500, “Back Home Again in Indiana” will be intoned by Jim Cornelison, the wonderful Anthem singer for the Chicago Black Hawks. It is said that nothing on this earth is forever. Jim Nabors will always sing it in the memory of this aging fan, but after a couple of not-so-great attempts to replace him, I think that Indy has found a very worthy substitute. The singing of that song, followed by the haunting sound of a single bugle blowing "Taps" quite literally makes the hair on my arms stand up as I shiver. It is such a stirring way to announce that it is almost time for the race to begin… right after we remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I hope that never changes.
And then, too often, the good folks at Indianapolis go and ruin the mood in the same manner we've become all too accustomed to in NASCAR. They go out and secure the services of some "Widely Acclaimed Star" or "Singing Sensation" to "perform" our National Anthem. The Star Spangled Banner (or is that The Star Mangled Banner?) does not need to be “performed!” As the National Anthem of these United States of America, it needs to be offered with the honor and dignity that it deserves.
It is a strong tune; not quite a march, but its tempo is quick. It is not a torch song, and requires no caressing of the microphone or facial grimaces. It already has words and it already has a melody. There is no need to change either. One other thing it is not, is a vocal exercise. No one cares what notes a singer can reach, if they are not part of the actual tune… as written. (At least, they shouldn't) The key word here… all too often entirely lacking… is R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Because Jim Nabors won't be with us anymore, let’s instead listen to his wonderful offering of our National Anthem at NASCAR’s inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. As an added bonus, the voice you hear introducing Jim Nabors is that of the incomparable “Voice of the Speedway”, Mr. Tom Carnegie. Life was good in 1994… and so many more good folks were still living it…
Until someone comes along to offer something better, this recording will stand as our standard of excellence. Please enjoy hearing our National Anthem as it can sound when done right.
And now, perhaps with Jim's powerful voice as a
background, I'd like to share with you all a story that was sent to me many years
ago by one of my readers, knowing of my love for our flag and my campaign to
gain proper respect for our National Anthem. There used to be a link that
allowed one to listen to the radio presentation, but it has long since been
erased from the archives of WHO radio in Iowa. That's a pity, because it was
done in a very gripping way by someone that could really hold your attention as
he spun the tale. It tells a story that will chill you to the bone, but it
teaches well why America is free, and the price that was paid, from the beginning,
so that she might remain that way.
Today, as we approach Memorial Day, 2017, may God bless all branches of our Military, and may He hold evermore in His loving hands all those that have made the supreme sacrifice for that most noble cause.
behind the National Anthem
By an unknown speaker, as heard on Jan Mickelson's show on WHO Radio
There was a lawyer once. His name was Francis Scott Key. He penned a song that I'm sure you're aware of. You've seen it; it's in most hymnals throughout our churches. It's called the National Anthem. It is our song as an American.
We go, however, to a ballgame; we stand in our church services and we sing the words to that song and they float over our minds and our lips and we don't even realize what we're singing. Most of us have memorized it as a child. But we've never really thought about what it means. Let me tell you a story.
Francis Scott Key was a lawyer in Baltimore. The colonies were engaged in vicious conflict with the mother country, Britain. Because of this conflict (and the protractiveness of it), they had accumulated prisoners on both sides. The American colonies had prisoners and the British had prisoners. And the American Government initiated a move. They went to the British and said let us negotiate for the release of these prisoners. They said, "We want to send a man out to discuss this with you." They were holding the American prisoners in boats about a thousand yards offshore. And they said, "We want to send a man by the name of Francis Scott Key. He will come out and negotiate to see if we can make a mutual exchange."
On the appointed day, in a rowboat, he went out to this boat and he negotiated with the British Officials. And they reached a conclusion that men could be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.
Francis Scott Key, Jubilant with the fact that he'd been successful, went down below in the boats and what he'd found was a cargo hold full of humanity. Men.
And he said, "Men, I've got news for you tonight, you're free!" He said, "Tonight I have negotiated successfully your return to the colonies." He said, "You'll be taken out of this boat, out of this filth, out of your chains."
As he went back up on board to arrange for their passage to the shore, the admiral came and he said, "We have a slight problem." He said, "We will still honor our commitment to release these men, but it'll be merely academic after tonight. It won't matter."
Francis Scott Key said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "Well Mr. Key, tonight, we have laid an ultimatum upon the colonies. Your people will either capitulate and lay down the colors of that flag that you think so much of, or… you see that fort right over there… Fort McHenry?" He said, "We're going to remove it from the face of the earth."
[Key] said, "How are you going to do that?" [The admiral] said, "If you will, scan the horizon of the sea." As [Key] looked, he could see hundreds of little dots. And [The admiral] said, "That's the entire British war fleet." He said, "All of the gun power; all of the armament is being called upon to demolish that fort. [The fleet] will be here within striking distance in a matter of about two and a half hours." He said, "The war is over; these men would be free anyway."
[Key] said, "You can't shell that fort!" He said, "That's a large fort." He said, "It's full of women and children." He said, "It's predominantly not a military fort."
[The Admiral] said, "Don't worry about it. They said we've left them a 'way out'"
[Key] said, "What's that?"
[The Admiral] said, "Do you see that flag way up there on the rampart?" He said, "We have told them that if they will lower that flag, the shelling will stop immediately… and we'll know that they've surrendered… and you'll now be under British rule."
Francis Scott Key went down below and told the men what was about to happen. And they said, "How many ships?", and he said, "Hundreds." The ships got closer. Francis Scott Key went back up on top and he said, "Men, I'll shout down to you what's going on as we watch."
As twilight began to fall and as the haze hung over the oceans as it does at sunset, suddenly the British war fleet unleashed.
He said, "The sounds were deafening." He said, "There were so many guns; there were no reliefs." He said, "It was absolutely impossible to talk or hear." He said, "Suddenly, the sky, although dark, was suddenly lit." And he says from down below, all he could hear, the men, the prisoners saying was, "Tell us where the flag is. What have they done with the flag? Is the flag still flying over the rampart? Tell us!"
One hour. Two hours. Three hours into the shelling. Every time the bomb would explode and it would be close to the flag, they could see the flag in the illuminated red glare of that bomb, and Francis Scott Key would report down to the men below, "It's still up! It's not down!"
The admiral came, and he said, "Your people are insane." He said, "What's the matter with them?" He said, "Don't they understand this is an impossible situation?"
Francis Scott Key said he remembered what George Washington had
said, "The thing that sets the American Christian apart from all other
people in the world is he will die on his feet before he'll live on his
The Admiral said, "We have now instructed all of the guns to focus on the rampart to take that flag down." He said, "We don't understand something. Our reconnaissance tells us that that flag has been hit directly… again… and again… and again, and yet it's still flying. We don't understand that." "But", he said; "now we're about to bring every gun, for the next three hours, to bear on that point."
Francis Scott Key said the barrage was unmerciful. All that he could hear… was the men down below… praying. The prayer: "God keep that flag flying… where we last saw it."
Sunrise came. [Key] said there was a heavy mist hanging over the land, but the rampart was tall enough… there stood the flag… completely nondescript… in shreds. The flagpole itself was at a crazy angle. But the flag was still at the top. Francis Scott Key (went aboard and) immediately went into Fort McHenry to see what had happened. And what he'd found had happened was that that flagpole and that flag had suffered repetitious direct hits… and when it had fallen… that men, fathers… who knew what it meant for that flag to be on the ground… although knowing that all of the British guns were trained on it, walked over and held it up… humanly… until they died. Their bodies were removed and others took their place. Francis Scott Key said what held that flagpole in place at that unusual angle… were patriots' bodies.
He penned the song:
say, can you see… by the dawn's early light… what so proudly we hailed… at the
twilight's last gleaming… for the rocket's red glare… the bombs bursting in
air… gave proof through the night… that the flag was still there! Oh say, does
that star spangled banner yet (fly and) wave… for the land of the free… and the
home of the brave."
The debt was demanded. The price… it was paid.
Complete lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner
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, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through 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?
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the Star Spangled Banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Oh! Thus be it ever, when freemen 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 shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
The actual flag flown over Fort McHenry.
30 by 42 feet and costing $405.90 ($5,440.21 in
The flag was made from 400 yards of wool bunting.
The 15 stars each measured two feet from point to point.
The Flag is currently housed in the National Museum of American History.
Well gentle readers, that is the story, as I heard it told many years ago, and I wanted you to read it just that way. It is a compelling, gripping and most importantly, true story of how our National Anthem came to be. The gentleman on the Jan Mickelson show presented it ever so much better than did Sister Rose Margaret, my fourth grade teacher, but then, he probably didn't have some 45 nine-year olds to control while telling it. She handled that part well. And now it's time to present you with something I found a few years back on YouTube. It gives no credit or hint as to who the narrator might be, but I believe that after so long a time, I have actually unearthed the version heard all those years ago. The person compiling the video accompaniment has done a very commendable job. I would urge you to view it twice. Once while watching his videos and once while reading along with the words I've typed above. The video is a nice accompaniment, but following the words alone, and hearing the voice of that narrator speak them as you read them, gives truly a most gripping effect. My fondest hope is that after reading… and hearing this story, you will pass it on to your friends, and more importantly, your children. This isn't some video game or a fairy tale gentle readers. It's real; it is fact, and it is heart-rending. If everyone knew the story that lies behind our Anthem, I'm confident we would see more respect and love afforded to that oh-so-difficult to sing piece of music.
I found it disappointing that at the end of this wonderful presentation, the author chose to feature Whitney Houston in closing. Personally, I would mute her and put Jim Nabors in the background for a much better effect… but that's just me. Whatever you do, please don’t skip this video!
This weekend, our National Anthem will be presented at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by Bebe Rexha, a young lady about whom I know nothing beyond the fact that she performs with electronic music. No further comment at this time, except to say that Darius Rucker was pretty good last year.
A few hours later, at Charlotte, we’ll hear it done again this year by the 82nd Airborne Chorus, and yes, we are noticing more NASCAR tracks going to the military for the Anthem. That, gentle readers, can only be seen as a good thing. Someone out there is listening!
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and as always, there is a Country Music Song for any occasion. What could be more fitting, as we celebrate Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was called when I was much younger… a day set aside to honor our war dead and decorate their graves, than to hear The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, tell the tale of that "Ragged Old Flag?”
Please keep in mind that Memorial Day is a special day set aside to remember and honor our war dead. It is not Veterans Day, though I firmly believe that every day is Veterans Day and it’s always the right time to “Thank a Vet today!” It’s not about hot dogs, barbeque, potato salad, cold beer, or racing, though there will be much of all those things across our great land this Sunday and Monday. Please, get it right. Take a few moments to send up a prayer in remembrance of those that made the supreme sacrifice. They did so for us… you and me.
Gentle readers, in previous editions of this piece, this closing video has been the incomparable Kate Smith’s offering of “God Bless America”, but today I have replaced Kate with someone and something more contemporary and that addresses even better the sentiment of this particular Day of Remembrance. This is Tim McGraw singing one of the most heart-rending and tear inducing songs these old ears have ever heard… “If You’re Reading This.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!