Flag Day, 2013

Fans of the Patrick O’Brian series about the adventures of a British naval captain, Jack Aubrey, and the ship’s doctor, friend and spy for England, Stephen Maturin, will be gratified to know that when Francis Scott Key, a lawyer, and his friend J.S. Skinner made a bid to free their friend, Maryland physician Dr. Beanes, they were taken aboard the H.M.S. Surprise.  Beanes was accused of aiding in the arrest of British soldiers.

The Surprise is the name of Aubrey’s ship in the film Master and Commander.  “Master and Commander” was the name of O’Brian’s first book in the series, but the film itself is based on a later book, “The Far Side of the World.”  Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane (the captain of the Surprise and the model of O’Brian’s Capt. Aubrey) over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.

Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city’s last line of defense.

Key and his friend were later transferred to a supply ship and then released to Key’s own vessel, the HMS Minden, where he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry beginning on Sept. 13, 1814.  During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s s smaller “storm flag” continued to fly, but once the shell and rocket barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn.  By then, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised.

During the bombardment, the HMS Erebus provided the “rockets’ red glare.” The HMS Meteor provided at least some of the “bombs bursting in air.”  Key wrote the four-stanza poem entitled “The Defence of Fort McHenry” on the back of an envelope and gave it to his brother-in-law the next day.  Judge J.H. Nicholson suggested using the nearly unsingable tune, “Anacreaon in Heaven,” which was also a popular bar tune (when you’re drunk, it doesn’t matter if you don’t hit the right notes anyway and no one will notice) known as “When the Warrior Returns,” written in honor of Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart on their return from the First Barbary war.

Also known as the Tripolitan War or the Barbary Coast War, it was the first of two wars fought between the United States and the Northwest African Berber Muslim states known collectively as the Barbary States: Tripoli and Algiers, which were quasi-independent entities nominally belonging to the Ottoman Empire, and the independent Sultanate of Morocco.  It was from this battle that a treaty was signed, declaring that the United States of America was not a “Christian nation.”  The Muslims broke the treaty anyway, resulting in the second war and the nullification of the first treaty.  We were a Christian nation once again, at least until 1962 when the Supreme Court declared prayers in school unconstitutional.

So on this day, remember the service men and women who sacrificed their lives in defense of that flag (today is the 238th Anniversary of the U.S. Army).  You may think differently now of the tune to which the words were set.  Difficult as it is (although not too difficult for 16 year-old Marlana Van Hoose, a blind and disabled high school girl who belted the song out of the park – or in this case, gymnasium – before a women’s basketball game between the University of Kentucky and Mississippi State), the song is a reminder that freedom is never easy.  Certainly not as easy as collecting welfare without even being a citizen.

According to the YouTube site, “16-year-old Marlana was born with Cytomeglovirus (CMV), a virus that prevented her optic nerve from ever forming.  Marlana healed from the virus after her first birthday.  She then began humming before learning to talk and taught herself how to play the piano by age 2.

“Today, Marlana loves to sing, her most recognized performance is when she sang the National Anthem before the University of Kentucky vs. Ole Miss women’s basketball game Feb. 2, 2012. University of Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said “the standing ovation that she got was the longest he could ever remember.”

Francis Scott Key would have been proud.  ‘Let this be our motto:  In God is our Trust.’



Published in: on June 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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