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Oh say can you sing—The Star-Spangled Banner

DKH_07 Last Friday I received an email alerting me to the National Anthem YouTube Singing Contest sponsored by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and USA Weekend Magazine!

My correspondent asked if I would share this information with The Daily Flag readers, and I am happy to do so. Entries for this contest will end on April 13.

The winner will be invited to perform the national anthem at the museum and at the Baltimore Orioles vs. Atlanta Braves game in Baltimore on Flag Day, June 14.

The links below will tell you how to enter the contest.



Long-time Daily Flag readers will know that I am a purist about our National Anthem, and if my advice is worth anything, then this is it: If you want to enter this contest, then sing the Star-Spangled Banner with all your heart, and all your soul. Tell the story like it was the first time anyone was hearing it, and take us back to that morning in Baltimore harbor.

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Star-Spangled Banner is the star of the show

DKH_05After a decade’s conservation, the flag that inspired the National Anthem returns to its place of honor on the National Mall.

By Robert M. Poole for Smithsonian magazine, November 2008

starspangledbanner_nov08_520 Long before it flew to the moon, waved over the White House or was folded into tight triangles at Arlington National Cemetery; before it sparked fiery Congressional debates, reached the North Pole or the summit of Mount Everest; before it became a lapel fixture, testified to the Marines’ possession of Iwo Jima, or fluttered over front porches, firetrucks and construction cranes; before it inspired a national anthem or recruiting posters for two world wars, the American ensign was just a flag.


For the rest of Robert M. Poole’s splendid story in Smithsonian magazine, go here.

On Wednesday, President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush dedicated the renovated National Museum of American History. Today is the grand opening to the public, with retired Gen. Colin Powell scheduled to read President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The original Star-Spangled Banner—the one that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired America’s National Anthem—had long been displayed in the museum, but for the past ten years it has been in the hands of conservationists, who have carefully preserved the fragile flag.

starspangledbanner_nov08_7Now it is beautifully displayed again in a specially designed gallery and enclosure that will protect this national treasure. starspangledbanner_nov08_8

All photography from the Smithsonian web site.

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What does the flag mean to you?

Flag, the bookI have written before that I use author Marc Leepson‘s wonderful book Flag: An American Biography. This book needs to be in every home, especially if you have school-aged children in the home, because it is such a splendid resource, and a delight to read.

I want to share a story with you, that has appeared in various forms in the press, on television, and on the Internet. But it is worth repeating, and I am going to quote it precisely from Leepson’s book and hope that he doesn’t mind.

This is a story about the flag: my flag, your flag, our flag.

The American flag proved to be an unequivocally positive symbol during the Vietnam War to the  men held as prisoners of war in Hanoi. The U.S. Navy pilot Michael Christian, who was shot down in North Vietnam and taken prisoner on April 24, 1967, was perhaps the most devoted to the flag. When he was held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison camp, Christian fashioned an American flag out  a few ragged bits of red and white cloth that he sewed into the inside of his prison-issue blue pajamas with a bamboo needle.

"Every afternoon we would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall of our cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance," said U.S. Sen. John McCain, a former navy pilot who was held with Christian. "For those men in that stark prison cell, it was indeed the most important and meaningful event of our day." When the prison guards discovered the flag in 1971, they beat Christian mercilessly, battering his face and breaking his ribs. While recovering from his wounds, Christian secretly made a replacement flag.

A few days after the beating, "Mike approached me, He said ‘Major, they got the flag, but they didn’t get the needle I made it with. If you agree, I’m making another flag,’ " said Air Force colonel George "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient held at the Hanoi Hilton from 1967 to 1973. "My answer was, ‘Do it.’ "

It took Christian "several weeks" to make that second flag, Day said. After he finished it, "there was never a day from that day forward that the Stars and Stripes did not fly in my room, with forty American pilots proudly saluting."

Al Kroboth, a U.S. Marine Corps A-6 navigator, was shot down July 7, 1972, over South Vietnam. Severely wounded, he was forced to march to the Hanoi Hilton where he was held until March 27, 1973, when the North Vietnamese released him and the other American POWs. When he saw the U.S. Air Force transport plane land in Hanoi to pick up the POWs that day, Kroboth said, he did not feel emotional until he noticed the large American flag painted on the airplane’s tail.

"That flag," he told the novelist Pat Conroy, a college classmate.  "It had the biggest American flag on it I ever saw. To this day, I cry when I think of it. Seeing that flag, I started crying. I couldn’t see the plane; I just saw the flag. All the guys started cheering. But that flag … that flag."

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“The Man Without a Country” by Edward Everett Hale

Here is another selection for my yet-to-be-compiled anthology on the American flag in literature. Written by Edward Everett Hale, The Man Without a Country is a stunning story. So perfect in the telling, it is hard to believe that it is fiction, though of course, Aaron Burr was real enough.

The Man Without a Country is considered a short story, but it is much longer (about 15 typewritten pages) than anything I have used previously on The Daily Flag. You may want to bookmark it.

In 1973, ABC produced the story as a television movie, and I remember watching it. I don’t know if a DVD is available, but you can get a VHS here.

The Man Without a Country

I suppose that very few casual readers of the New York Herald of August 13th observed, in an obscure corner, among the “Deaths”, the announcement:

NOLAN. Died, on board U.S. Corvelette Levant, Lat. 2 deg; 11″ S., Long. 131 deg; W., on the 11th of May, Philip Nolan.

I happened to observe it, because I was stranded at the old Mission-House in Mackinac, waiting for a Lake Superior steamer which did not choose to come, and I was devouring, to the very stubble, all the current literature I could get hold of, even down to the deaths and the marriages in the Herald. My memory for names and people is good, and the reader will see, as he goes on, that I had reason enough to remember Philip Nolan. There are hundreds of readers who would have paused at that announcement, if the officer of the Levant who reported it had chosen to make it thus: “Died, May 11th, ‘The Man Without a Country.'” For it was as “The Man without a Country” that poor Philip Nolan had generally been known by the officers who had him in charge during some fifty years, as indeed, by all the men who sailed under them. I dare say there is many a man who has taken wine with him once a forthnight, in a three years cruise, who never knew that his name was “Nolan”, or whether the poor wretch had any name at all.
Continue reading “The Man Without a Country” by Edward Everett Hale

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The American flag in American literature

american-flag-for-desktopA book that I would buy, if someone would write it, is the book that brings together all the poetry and literature written about the American flag—where the Stars and Stripes is the primary focus of the work. For now, I am left to research on my own.

Poetry is easier to find than essays or other forms of literature. And maybe the book is out there, and I just haven’t found it. If you, O Reader, know of such a work, please comment below or send a note.

Joseph Rodman Drake was born in New York City, August 17, 1795, and died in New York City on September 21, 1820. Drake’s life was short, but he left behind many creative works, which includes “The American Flag.” It was published in 1836 by his daughter under the title of “The Culprit Fay, and Other Poems.”

The American Flag

by Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820)


When Freedom, from her mountain height,
Unfurled her standard to the air,
She tore the azure robe of night,
And set the stars of glory there;
She mingled with its gorgeous dyes
The milky baldric of the skies,
And striped its pure, celestial white
With streakings of the morning light;
Then, from his mansion in the sun,
She called her eagle bearer down,
And gave into his mighty hand,
The symbol of her chosen land.


Majestic monarch of the cloud!
Who rear’st aloft thy regal form,
To hear the tempest-trumpings loud,
And see the lightning-lances driven
When strive the warriors of the storm,
And rolls the thunder-drum of heaven–
Child of the sun! to thee ‘t is given
To guard the banner of the free,
To hover in the sulphur smoke,
To ward away the battle-stroke,
And bid its blendings shine afar,
Like rainbows on the cloud of war,
The harbingers of victory!


Flag of the brave! thy folds shall fly,
The sign of hope and triumph high,
When speaks the signal-trumpet tone,
And the long line comes gleaming on:
Ere yet the life-blood, warm and wet,
Has dimmed the glistening bayonet,
Each soldier eye shall brightly turn
Where the sky-born glories burn,
And, as his springing steps advance,
Catch war and vengeance from the glance;
And when the cannon-mouthings loud
Heave in wild wreaths the battle-shroud,
And gory sabres rise and fall,
Like shoots of flame on midnight’s pall;
Then shall thy meteor-glances glow,
And cowering foes shall shrink beneath
Each gallant arm that strikes below
That lovely messenger of death.


Flag of the seas! on ocean wave
Thy stars shall glitter o’er the brave;
When death, careering on the gale,
Sweeps darkly round the bellied sail,
And frighted waves rush wildly back
Before the broadside’s reeling rack,
Each dying wanderer of the sea
Shall look at once to heaven and thee,
And smile to see thy splendors fly
In triumph o’er his closing eye.


Flag of the free heart’s hope and home,
By angel hands to valor given;
Thy stars have lit the welkin dome,
And all thy hues were born in heaven.
Forever float that standard sheet!
Where breathes the foe but falls before us,
With Freedom’s soil beneath our feet,
And Freedom’s banner streaming o’er us?