Have you ever heard the U.S. national anthem played by a band of 10-20 people who made up the best band a small Belgian town could produce, playing a song to honor another country?
While stationed in Germany in the 1970s, I was the officer-in-charge of an 8-15 man unit that marched over much of Europe representing the U.S. Army to provide an outlet for young soldiers to see, learn about and experience Europe.
On one occasion we had marched 20-30 kilometers through many small villages, and in one small town I came to realize what it meant to be a liberator and bringer of hope to people. From the distance as we approached the town, we heard many songs being played by a small band. All of a sudden the crowd sat up and we heard “Ami’s, Ami’s” as the local populace recognized our uniforms and the flag we carried. We heard that ragtag band playing their hearts out as they honored us with their rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. This was my national anthem, and I experienced one of the strongest feelings I’ve ever had about what it means to be an American. These people needed no one to remind them who freed them, or what country made much of the difference in how and where they could recover and redevelop in a post-WWII era.
Can you imagine the feelings of a subjugated people who had been thoroughly defeated, deprived of their nation, starved, with little hope until the Americans entered the fray and started bringing the tide of victory home; bringing faith and hope to many peoples that their country would come back to regain their pride, and history of a proud people?
Many times I’ve heard the magic of The Star Spangled Banner, and I’m always moved to a degree by knowing what it means to me. I’m not the man you would pick to sing at opening day of the baseball season; I’m not the man on TV singing a version on-key, but I’m the guy who tears up inside and very few will ever observe it; I’m not ashamed, but not making a big deal of what that song does and means to me.
It is a shame many of our own citizen’s cannot see and feel the wonder of being an American, and I cannot say what it takes, or what you should have to do to be a true patriot. The basic measure in my mind, is when the national anthem is played, the restless pumping of blood, and the thickening of your vocal cords as you choke up a little bit, all remind me this is not just any song, but a song that brings people together and serves as a symbol of a great land, and a great people.