My very first recollection of our National Anthem is a memory that is very vivid and one that I shall cherish forever, even though I was but a child of only four years old at the time. It was at a huge place called the Los Angeles Coliseum, where my father had taken me to see my first ever professional baseball game. The date was April 18, 1958 and, at the time, I had no idea who the Los Angeles Dodgers were, nor was I aware that they had just moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. Heck, I didn’t even know where Brooklyn was (or anywhere else, for that matter). I also had no idea that the team that these new Dodgers were playing had also just moved to California from New York, to a place called San Francisco. They called this other team the Giants, but they didn’t look any bigger than the Dodgers to me. But what I DO know is that I was a little kid buried in a sea of grown-ups, which I later learned numbered more than 78,000.
Just before the baseball game was to start, everybody suddenly stood up and took their hats off, and the entire place fell dead silent. And then everyone began singing this song about bombs blowing up and rockets flying through the air, and a flag with big stripes and bright stars on it that didn’t get blown up and was still there the next morning when the sun came up. But what amazed me more than anything else was that EVERYONE knew the words to this song and EVERYONE was singing it TOGETHER! “Wow!” I remember thinking to myself. “This baseball stuff is great!” And, to make matters ever better, the new Dodgers beat the new Giants, which made all of the grown-ups real happy. As I got a little older, I learned the history of our National Anthem in school - because they actually taught it in school back then.
My love for baseball (especially for the Dodgers and Angels) has stayed with me throughout my entire life. In fact, aside from my kids (both of whom are also avid Dodger and Angel fans) and my obsessive passion for bass fishing, baseball is my other love.
As a Dodger season ticket holder, I attend (almost) every home game at Dodger Stadium and another dozen or so games at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Over the past few seasons, I’ve noticed that something has changed; something very disturbing to me. When it is time for our National Anthem, no longer does everyone stand up and remove their caps. And while it is playing, no longer does everyone sing it, even though they put the words to it up on huge video screens. Instead, people are walking up and down the aisles with their beer, Dodger Dogs, or Nachos in hand, or they are talking to others around them or on their cell phones. And even those who are standing are doing nothing more than that. No longer do I see people singing our National Anthem or even saying the words out loud.
Has our society become so jaded or so “politically correct” that we no longer care about our very history, or that fateful night and early morning of September 13-14, 1814, when Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner* on the back of a letter that he had in his pocket of the attack on Fort McHenry near Baltimore? Do these people even realize the sacrifices that many brave Americans made on that night and throughout the War of 1812; the very war that gave us our freedom? And what about our brave servicemen and women who continued to fight for our freedom throughout our nation’s history and even to this very day?
Sadly, I came to realize that our once very meaningful National Anthem is now little more than a timely reminder that a sporting event is about to begin. It is now nothing more than two or three minutes of our lives that we are forced to endure just prior to the first pitch, the opening kick-off, face-off, or tip-off. It has become “just part of the game.” So upset was I that our National Anthem has lost its true meaning and is now grossly taken for granted that I have even considered removing it from my tournament “routine.”
Now that I have everyone in a downer mood, please allow me to share with you something that occurred to me recently; something so powerful and so overwhelming that it inspired me to write this article, rather than surrender our National Anthem to those who have little or no use for it.
While preparing to release the boats at my July 29th Lake Casitas night tournament, I played the National Anthem, just as I have done countless times before. Although nothing seemed any different at the time, I would soon learn that it was a lot different this time. At the conclusion of the National Anthem, I released to boats. After doing so, Scott Harvey and I made our way back to the snack bar area, where we had held our tournament registrations. As we were putting our gear away (which included rolling up the American flag that we always hold up during the National Anthem), an elderly lady in her late seventies or early eighties approached us. I had never seen this lady before and quickly realized that she had absolutely nothing to do with our tournament or with any of our anglers. She was simply a visitor to the lake who had been there during our blast-off. Out of the blue this lady said to me “That’s my husband over there,” as she pointed to a frail old man seated on a bench in front of the snack bar. “He is a decorated World War II veteran and he recently lost his ability to speak, but he wanted me to thank you for what you just did. He was very touched that you played the National Anthem and he really appreciated it. He just wanted you to know that,” the lady added.
I was speechless.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only five or ten seconds, I was finally able to compose my self and said to the lady “Ma’am, would you please be so kind and tell your husband that it is I who appreciates what he has done for us. Without men like your husband there would be no National Anthem. Please tell him that it is I who thanks him,” I added, with a lump in my throat and tears welling in my eyes. All of this was too much for Scott Harvey, who had to turn and walk away while wiping his eyes and clearing his throat.
Just as my very first recollection of our National Anthem was half a century ago, this brief moment in time instantly became yet another memory that I shall cherish forever.
Never again will I have thoughts of not playing our National Anthem before my tournaments; NEVER. And I will continue to stand, remove my cap, and sing its words proudly whenever and wherever it is played. And tears will continue to fill my eyes when our National Anthem is played as our flag is raised above the heads of our country’s victorious Olympic athletes.
Oh Yes, I can see – and how. God Bless America.
Thanks for your time and always remember: “The shortest distance between two points is a reef!”
* Source - Francis Scott Key: http://www.usflag.org/history/francisscottkey.html