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The Tentacle


March 26, 2003

The Fourth Verse: An Anthem For Our Time

Al Duke

When I first graduated from college, many years ago, I taught in a Catholic mission school in Jamaica associated with the local church. One evening I was invited over to a parishioner's house for dinner, along with several other American teachers.

Over a couple of Red Stripes, our host, a very informed Jamaican, proved to us how little most Americans know about our country.

One of his questions was: "Who knows the fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner?" No one did. He proceeded to recite it for us.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
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."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

His opinion was that this was the verse that should be sung on occasions when the National Anthem is performed. He thought that this verse, above the others, best expressed what America is. After reflection, I agreed with him then and I agree with him now.

On another occasion, when I was in high school, WBZ Radio in Boston, before it was an all-news station, played the National Anthem at a regular time, as I remember. On this particular occasion, the host said that he was going to play the anthem as countries behind the Iron Curtain heard their anthems over Radio Free Europe. This rendition was masked behind noise and jamming. It remains the most moving iteration of the National Anthem I have ever heard.

These days, our National Anthem is more used as a means for one performer or another to gain public exposure. Some of these performances are not bad, most are not good, and Roseanne Barr is in a class of her own. Many times these performers add their own variations to the anthem, which in my opinion, generally detracts from the solemnity of it.

It is not "just another song" on which to imprint a personal stamp. I keep hoping that someone will forget the words and stand there and hum. But they must have a teleprompter.

Reading the Fourth Verse helps us appreciate our military, who are out there in many places in the world today, standing between their loved homes and the desolation of war that our enemies would bring upon us. Indeed, our enemies brought it upon us in our homeland less than two years ago, and would bring upon us today, if they could.

Thank you to all of you who have protected us in wars and crises past and who are protecting us today in Afghanistan and in Iraq and around the world. Reading the Fourth Verse also helps us appreciate the place that God had in the lives of our early citizens and, indeed, has for us today. The phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is under attack.

It is certainly to be hoped that the U. S. Supreme Court will redress this egregious ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If not, then the National Motto may be next, and the Fourth Verse of the National Anthem itself may be declared unconstitutional in due course.

And so I would like to suggest that on occasions when the National Anthem is performed, perhaps at various sporting events, or at the beginning of programs such as graduations, and so on, that the Fourth Verse be sung. Also, let us end the "performances" as much as can be, and unite as a community in singing our National Anthem.



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