Today, June 6th, 2012, is the 68th anniversary of the Normandy Landings in France, commonly referred to as 'D-Day'. 68 years ago, at least 4,414 Allied troops were killed as they set foot on French soil - 2,499 Americans and 1,915 from other nations. Several thousand more were wounded.
It's perhaps not inappropriate on such an anniversary to consider Bill Press's disparaging views about the US National Anthem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner'. Here's what he had to say yesterday.
I guess I can understand that he finds the anthem difficult to sing: so do I. However, I can manage it, and I'm proud to do so. What gets me is his subsequent comments about its meaning. I quote:
"I mean when you think about it, it’s bombs bursting in air, rockets' red glare, it's all kinds of, you know a lot of national anthems are that way too, all kinds of military jargon, and the land there’s only one phrase 'the land of the free' which is kind of nice, and 'the home of the brave'? I don’t know. Are we the only ones who are brave on the planet? I mean, all the brave people live here. I mean it’s just stupid I think. I’m embarrassed, I’m embarrassed every time I hear it."
Mr. Press, 68 years ago today, 2,414 young American men died in the midst of their own experience of 'the rockets' red glare' and 'bombs bursting in air'. An unknown number died on that same day in the war in the Pacific - the first air strike by B-29 Superfortresses had been made against Bangkok the day before, and on that same date an invasion fleet departed Pearl Harbor to invade Saipan on June 15th. Those young men died, and thousands more were injured, in order to ensure that you and I didn't grow up speaking, reading and writing German or Japanese. We're free because they gave up their lives - and their freedom - for us . . . and they certainly were brave . . . so I don't think it's even remotely embarrassing to honor the freedom for which they fought, and their bravery, in our national anthem.
It's entirely possible that I'm only here today because of the 'land of the free and the home of the brave'. I've written before about my late father's experiences during World War II. He was English, of course, and served in the Royal Air Force; but from that earlier article, here's one of his tales that may strike a responsive chord with US readers.
Dad always spoke very gratefully of the help the USA provided. One of his favorite stories was the time he flew into an US Army Air Force base in North Africa in early 1943 in a very worn, clapped-out C-47 transport to collect some spares. He was treated to a GI lunch, and over the meal said something about how hard it was to keep the old transport going. To his astonishment his host, a USAAF Colonel, said off-handedly, "No problem - we'll give you a new one. Sign here!" and handed him a clipboard full of Lend-Lease forms. He duly signed on the dotted line, and the Colonel led him and his crew to a brand-new C-47 that had just arrived from America. "Take this one," the Colonel invited, and left them to get on with it.
When Dad arrived back at his squadron in a brand-new transport he was apparently the hero of the hour . . . although he later confessed to me that for the rest of his time in the RAF he dreaded receiving a letter demanding to know why he had dared to sign for an aircraft without official authorization. He fully expected to be required to pay for it! Fortunately the bureaucrats never traced the paper trail back to him . . . probably because he claimed to have signed the Lend-Lease form using the name "Flight-Lieutenant Winston S. Churchill"!
My father flew many thousands of miles in both the old and the new C-47's. The old one was so worn out that he described it as an adventure just to keep it in the air! Apparently the new one was much more serviceable, and he felt a lot safer in it. It may be that American generosity, exemplified by Lend-Lease and that replacement C-47, helped to bring me into the world by keeping my father alive (where the old plane might have finally given up the ghost and killed him in a crash). We'll never know . . . but it's a nice thought, isn't it? (It is to me, at any rate!) I therefore have a very personal reason to be grateful to the 'land of the free and the home of the brave' - quite apart from the fact that it's now my home.
Mr. Press, I'm not embarrassed in the least to sing our national anthem. On a day like today, when I consider how many men died 68 years ago to ensure that we could go on singing it, I'm not ashamed to admit that I feel a lump in my throat, and a tear comes to my eye. Veterans are like that, Mr. Press. Many of us have 'been there and done that' ourselves, and we know the price of freedom. Too many of our comrades in arms have paid it. That's why this will always be the 'land of the free and the home of the brave', Mr. Press . . . because far too many of her brave men gave their lives and are buried all around the world, so that those of us living here can enjoy the freedom for which they died.
You might want to think about that before sounding off about how our national anthem "embarrasses" you.