Perhaps some of the older readers may remember when God and patriotism were still in vogue, during what has been called the "greatest generation." A member of that generation is the Rev. William (Bill) Atkinson, a man on a mission.
During World War II, after graduating from high school in Lawrence, Mass., Bill joined the Navy and served aboard ship in the Pacific theater, as a signalman. After the war, he attended college and became a high school teacher, coach, and assistant principal, in Suffield, Conn. After retiring, he became ordained as an Episcopal priest, and served as rector of a parish in up-state Vermont. When he retired from that position he moved to Meredith and continued to perform his priestly duties as a supply clergy, substituting when needed at various parishes in central New Hampshire.
Father Bill is a true patriot. His background, and the teaching he received as he grew up, are what cause him to be on his mission . . . that is, to get people to stand and proudly sing our national anthem. He wants people to understand what price has been paid for the freedoms we enjoy. To know that the Revolutionary War did not end our war with England. That the British, during the war of 1812, burned our capital city of Washington and took many prisoners who were put in chains and held in the bowels of their ships. The British fleet then sailed to Baltimore, intent on bombing Fort McHenry and capturing the city.
Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer, was sent to the British flagship to try and strike a bargain for the release of the Americans being held prisoner. A bargain was struck for a one-for-one exchange of British and American prisoners, but the British insisted that the one-for-one exchange would only be honored if the American flag was still flying over Ft. McHenry by dawn's early light.
Please reflect on the eighty words written by Francis Scott Key to describe that battle, and the importance of the flag . . .
O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
He is telling us that in the early morning, we could still see the flag we were so proud of, as the sun set the night before. That meant our soldiers could be freed.
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
Here, Francis Scott Key is telling us that the battle raged relentlessly throughout the night and, from the British ship, he could look over the ramparts of Ft. McHenry and, as the bombs and rockets burst, the fire from the bursts provided enough light to see that our flag was still there . . . it had not been replaced by the British union jack, as that would have signaled our defeat and our soldiers would continue to be held prisoner.
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,?
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave
And the poem ends with the recognition of our national symbol, that Star Spangled Banner, is still flying over the home of the free and the land of the brave.
What Key's poem didn't mention, was that Ft. McHenry, and the flag, had been hit with bombs repeatedly and a great many of our soldiers were killed. The only thing that kept the stars and stripes waving in air was that the flag pole which had been struck, was being held up by the bodies of our fallen soldiers.
Since the revolutionary war, brave Americans have continued to pay a heavy price for our freedom. Our Civil War, in an effort to save the union and bring freedom to all, took the lives of about 630,000 citizens. Since that time, approximately 650,000 more brave Americans have paid the ultimate price in other wars to maintain our freedoms here at home, and to help others around the world defeat tyranny and achieve some measure of freedom. Each time a life has been given as a price to be paid for our freedom, it has been a contribution not unlike the ones made by the bodies of the fallen at Ft. McHenry . . . to keep our flag flying, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Our National Anthem is not a ballad. It contains the story about the price that was, and that continues to be paid, for our freedom. Help Father Bill to be successful in his mission . . . always join in and sing the National Anthem to honor those who have made our freedom possible. Do it proudly.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
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