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For more than a century the "Star Spangled Banner," written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, was sung as a popular patriotic air. From time to time Army and Navy leaders designated it as the national anthem for official occasions. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it the national anthem. Continuous lobbying by the Veterans of Foreign Wars led to Congress designating the membership song as the official national anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.

Francis Scott Key practiced law in Baltimore during the War of 1812. In 1814 one of Key's friends, Dr. Beanes, was held prisoner by the British aboard the ship Minden in Baltimore harbor. Key decided he would try to obtain his friend's release. Carrying a flag of truce and a letter from President James Madison, Key rowed out to the ship. His request for the friend's freedom was granted, but both men were detained onboard because the British were about to bombard Fort McHenry.

During the bombardment, Key watched the Stars and Stripes flying over the fort. Darkness fell, and he no longer could see the flag. But the fort kept on firing back at the British, so Key knew the American stronghold had not surrendered.

When daylight returned Key was overjoyed to see that "the flag was still there." Taking an old envelope from his pocket he wrote the stirring opening words," O say, can you see by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?"

After he returned ashore, Key completed the verse, which was later published in the Baltimore American, September 21, 1814. It became popular immediately. Later the words were set to the English "Anacreon in Heaven," which is the tune we sing today.





THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL ANTHEM
Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n 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!


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