An­them trig­gers feel­ings of pride

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Burt Siemens, of Amherst, is a grad­u­ate of St. John’s Col­lege, alma mater of Fran­cis Scott Key (class 1796).

Way long ago, we neigh­bor­hood kids ar­gued over whether we had to stand if we hear “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” on the ra­dio, even when alone in our room. I think we re­solved the is­sue with what teach­ers in those days called fisticuffs.

Time and again it seems we must re-ex­am­ine the pro­to­cols for re­spect­ing our sym­bols of pa­tri­o­tism. We must de­cide again what’s nox­ious, what’s merely ob­nox­ious and what’s in­nocu­ous.

In first grade back in 1940, our day be­gan with the Pledge of Al­le­giance. At the time, we be­lieved the pledge could not take hold un­less we said it with our right arm ex­tended, palm up­ward, at about a 45 de­gree an­gle from our body.

One day we were told, “never mind” – a hand over the heart would suf­fice. Some­one thought

Many were up­set when Jimi Hen­drix strummed his sin­gu­lar ver­sion of “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” at Wood­stock.

the tra­di­tional flag salute looked too much like the kind of salute pop­ping up all over Ger­many at the time. What had been in­nocu­ous was now nox­ious.

Many were up­set when Jimi Hen­drix strummed his sin­gu­lar ver­sion of “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” at Wood­stock. Older peo­ple thought it sounded like two cats and a rat tied up in a pa­per bag. To the young, though, it sounded like sweet mu­sic.

Proper flag ven­er­a­tion has once again be­come an is­sue. As every­one knows, some NFL play­ers have knelt dur­ing the na­tional an­them to protest racial in­jus­tice. Some folks see sedi­tion, some see free­dom of speech. So now we must de­cide whether tak­ing a knee is more stoop than gen­u­flect.

I have al­ways stood for the an­them, mostly at baseball games. I get up on my feet be­cause it never oc­curs to me not to. It’s what one does, like the sev­enth-in­ning stretch. Ex­cept, there you can keep your hat on. And only the most de­vout guardian of baseball tra­di­tion re­gards you with scorn be­cause you re­main sit­ting.

If the Olympic Games are on, my TV is on. When I hear “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” and see the flag rise in honor of Amer­i­can gold I nat­u­rally feel a twinge of pa­tri­otic pride.

Some­times I feel like stand­ing, even when watch­ing alone. But I never do.

Not long ago, the del­i­cacy of an­them pro­to­col came up in a most un­ex­pected set­ting. It was the com­mence­ment ex­er­cise for grand­son Henry’s pre-K class. Dot­ing grand­par­ents, we of course were there.

In the pro­gram we saw he was slated to open the cer­e­mony with the na­tional an­them. That he was so se­lected came as a to­tal sur­prise to us – though we knew he could do it.

As all Sabres fans know, home games be­gin with the Cana­dian na­tional an­them fol­lowed by the Amer­i­can. Henry’s par­ents are avid fans. He has at­tended some games and seen more on TV. So he has heard both an­thems many times. And all the time he had been mem­o­riz­ing the words – to each.

One day he sang both to his de­light­fully sur­prised fam­ily just as he had heard them. So we knew he was up to the honor.

But which an­them would he sing? Would “O, Canada” come out of his mouth just as the Amer­i­can col­ors were be­ing pre­sented?

We fid­geted through in­tro­duc­tory remarks and house­keep­ing an­nounce­ments. Then Henry strolled out.

He took the stage. He scanned the au­di­ence, spot­ted his mom and dad and waved to them. He smiled at the crowd and stepped up to the mike. We held our breath. He took a deep one. Then in his boy­ish voice came, “O, say can you see …”

Never has “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” sounded sweeter.

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