Most Americans are very familiar with the lyrics to the first verse of our National Anthem. However, few are familiar with the other verses originally penned as a poem by Francis Scott Key.
Our National Anthem, adopted as such by Congress in 1931, was written on the morning of September 14, 1814. Shortly after the British burned Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, they attempted to capture the city of Baltimore, a major American port at the time. Standing in their way at the entrance of the Baltimore Harbor was Fort McHenry.
On September 13, 1814, the British began a twenty-five hour bombardment campaign in an attempt to blast Fort McHenry into defeat. As the sun rose the next morning, Key saw the large American flag still flying over the Baltimore fort and was inspired to write the lyrics we now sing.
The lesser known fourth verse begins by saying, “O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand, between their loved home and the war's desolation!”
Indeed, nearly 200 years after Key wrote these inspiring words, our men and women in uniform continue to defend liberty. They stand in the gap between the freedoms we enjoy here at home and those who seek to destroy us.
This is no more evident than with the brave Oklahomans who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of the past twelve months. Since last year, over 4,000 Oklahomans have defended freedom in the Central Command area that includes both Iraq and Afghanistan.
With roughly 3,400 being sent from the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Brigade Combat Team alone, this was the largest deployment of Oklahomans since the Korean War.
With thousands of Oklahomans having loved ones in combat overseas, we personally felt the sting of war more sharply as all gave so much and some paid the ultimate sacrifice.
I had the honor and privilege to visit these troops in the days just before their deployment and several times while they were on the front lines. Each time I visited them in Afghanistan, I saw the successes of their hard work and witnessed the hardship of enduring fallen comrades. I heard the grit of their fight and their determination in their voices. In the face of adversity, they performed brilliantly and left Afghanistan better than they found it.
Key sums up what I witnessed in our brave men and women when he writes, “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.’”
As we celebrate America’s birthday this July 4th, may we remember and thank our service members and their families. It is because of their sacrifices and the sacrifices of others like them in the generations that have gone before that allowed Key can conclude, “And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
Happy 4th of July!
Senator Inhofe is Oklahoma’s senior U.S. Senator.