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One of the aggravating events that triggers The Gunny’s urge to rant isn’t anything new. It has bothered me since I was a boy. As wayward and awkward as I was back then, I still had the good sense and discipline to stand with attention, respect and silence during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” With the tunes of our national anthem in my ears and my eyes locked on our flag, I am overwhelmed by a sense of deep pride and appreciation of our great heritage.

Most Americans feel the same way as far as I can tell. But sometimes it is my great misfortune to clap eyes on some asshat who is talking, not paying attention, not standing or otherwise insulting the small ceremony that honors America. I have never gone over and knocked the hat off one of these creeps, but I have thought about it. Oh yes, many times!

I would hate to be cuffed and stuffed, and locked up and then sued, because I came down hard on some miscreant not respecting “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Perhaps, here in print, I can make my point with the same vigor I could display in going after some idiot whose behavior I detest.

In addition to pointing my wrath at the obvious individuals who show no respect for our national anthem, I must say, as I did in my new book, Gunny’s Rules, that I am not moved or in any way emotionally pleased when hearing some rock star or hip-hop singer try to put their own personal twist onto the singing of our national anthem. It needs no special interpretation by self-aggrandizing performers out to put on a show. The standard notes and melody work just fine, and the deep feelings within me are stirred when they are delivered strong and true.

I literally cringe when I hear the announcer say that the singer is going to be some superstar music peddler out to further their name. Here it comes: Another irritating, souped-up rendition that twists the notes into highs and lows that sound like a banshee screaming. There is no grace, no majesty in this. Nothing at all that stirs the feelings for which the music is intended. I don’t care how famous these individuals are, if they can’t sing the anthem in the way it was created to be delivered, I wish they would stay home. I would much prefer to have “The Star-Spangled Banner” properly delivered by some local person with a good voice.

Some years ago, in sports events being broadcast out of New York, an ugly new irritant started getting my attention during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Now it has spread, like some emotional cancer, to sporting events all over America. It is this: In the last part of the music, the crowd begins to yell, drowning out the music and the words when they are being performed.

I don’t get it. Have I become an old fart, out of touch?

What are the cheers intended for, breaking in and disrupting the music? If they are to express support for the team, why can’t they wait until the music ends? Are the cheers really meant to say, “We’re glad the music is ending—let’s play ball”?
You’ve got me, friends. Like I said, I don’t get it.

And I don’t like it, either. For it is at the conclusion of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that Francis Scott Key completes the message of his immortal music. The song begins with a question: “Oh, say can you see…?” It also ends with a question, one sometimes drowned out by the crowd yelling. That question, to me, burns into memory, for in it lies the ultimate challenge for all Americans:

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

There you have it: the question every generation of Americans must answer. After the music has ended, after the event has ended and you’ve gone home, that question remains.

I am free to write these words, and you to read them, because generation after generation of Americans have given their lives and years of service to step forward in uniform in the armed forces of the United States. They have written their answer “Yes!” to that burning question with blood, sweat and tears. Other generations, many yet unborn, must follow. Or Francis Scott Key’s question will become the saddest on earth.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

Right now, you and I know the answer: It’s “Hell yes!”

Semper Fi!

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