The American Flag & Patriotic Songs

The following information is excerpted from the program originally presented by
The Providence Forum on Flag Day, June 14, 2002.

If you are interested in purchasing a CD or video of this event, please contact us.

Pledge of Allegiance Five Points of the Stars and Stripes
The Story of the Four Chaplains
Eternal Father, Strong to Save
Flag Folding Ceremony The Battle Hymn of the Republic Taps
A Meditation on Liberty The American Oaths

The Star-Spangled Banner
Text, Francis Scott Key, 1814 • Music attributed to John Stafford Smith

Verse 1

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Verse 2
On the shore dimly seen thro' 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 on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Verse 3
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 wash'd 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.
Verse 4
O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd 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!

Historical Note:
The fifteen star, fifteen stripe flag was authorized by Congress in 1795. This flag flew over Fort McHenry and became known as the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

* * *
Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Historical Notes:
The original pledge was published in the Sept. 8, 1892, issue of The Youth's Companion in Boston. For years, the authorship was in dispute between James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy of the magazine's staff. In 1939, after a study of the controversy, the United States Flag Association decided that authorship be credited to Bellamy.

The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge on June 14, 1954, a Flag Day almost fifty years ago.

* * *
Five Points of the Stars and Stripes
Dr. Peter Lillback • Executive Director, The Providence Forum

Each of the components of our flag has a meaning: (1) the colors, (2) the stripes, (3) the stars, (4) the flagpole on which it is raised and lowered, and (5) the flag in its entirety as a reflection of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

According to the Journal of the Continental Congress, our flag calls us to a moral character marked by heartiness and valor (red), purity and innocence (white), perseverance, vigilance and justice (blue). Its stripes remind us of the courage of our Founding Patriots who refused to be silent in regard to their just claims to liberty at the Boston Liberty Tree. This is because the flag of the Sons of Liberty was one of the first to use stripes to represent our states. In essence they lived out the verse that is on our Liberty Bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” (Lev. 25:10)

The stars in a field of blue bring to mind our patriots’ “appeal to Heaven” as seen especially in the words of Samuel Adams and in the Declaration of Independence, “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our intentions.” The stars call on us to continue to appeal to Heaven for our hope of justice in the pursuit of liberty, regardless of the state in which we live.

The folded flag’s stars quietly remind us that as a nation, “In God We Trust.” As we stand around the very pole on which we fly the flag, we need to remember that the pole itself is a liberty pole that declares that when we stand for these historic American values, we are freed from slavery to be free men. It was on such a pole that our Founders put the Liberty Cap, a symbol of freedom from slavery, the Liberty Pole and the Liberty Cap can be seen on our Founders’ State flags, coins, and currency.

Further, as expressed by our military itself, as our flag is raised and lowered each day, we are boldly declaring our hope in the resurrection of the body from the dead. As this most remarkable banner is solemnly folded it teaches the importance of life; eternal life; the heroism of our veterans; our dependence upon God; our loyalty to our nation and its flag; respect for our military, our soldiers in combat, our mothers and fathers; and respecting our differences in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a call to glorify the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The folded flag thus reminds us of both our Heavenly Father and the father of our nation, George Washington.

As we celebrate the history and meaning of our nation’s flag, and as we face the traumatic times of the 21st Century, we are learning again what the U.S. Military has always known—that the cost of freedom is high. The currency by which liberty is purchased is the blood of heroes. So as we celebrate Old Glory, let us also remember the veterans of our country. Let us thank God not only for their patriotism and heroism, but also for the sacrifices that they have made. They have made sure that America will continue to be a place where the gospel can go forth in liberty. We ought to thank God for them, not only on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, but every time we see our Flag.

* * *
The Story of the Four Chaplains

A convoy of three ships and three escorting Coast Guard cutters passed through "torpedo alley" some 100 miles off the coast of Greenland at 1:00 a.m. on February 3, 1943. The submarine U-223 fired three torpedoes, one of which hit the midsection of the Dorchester, a U.S. Army troopship with more than 900 men on board. Ammonia and oil were everywhere in the fast-sinking vessel and upon the freezing sea.

The four Chaplains on board, two Protestant pastors, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, were among the first on deck, calming the men and handing out life jackets. When they ran out, they took off their own and placed them on waiting soldiers without regard to faith or race.

Approximately eighteen minutes after the explosion, the ship went down. The chaplains were the last to be seen by witnesses; they were standing arm-in-arm on the hull of the ship, each praying in his own way for the care of the men. Almost 700 died, making it the third largest loss at sea of its kind for the United States during World War II. The Coast Guard Cutter Tampa was able to escort the other freighters to Greenland. Meanwhile the cutters Comanche and Escanaba, disobeying orders to continue the search for the German U-Boat, stopped to rescue 230 men from the frigid waters that night.

The four Chaplains were Father John Washington (Catholic), Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish) and Reverend George Fox (Methodist). These four Chaplains were later honored by the Congress and Presidents. They were recognized for their selfless acts of courage, compassion and faith. According to the First Sergeant on the ship, "They were always together, they carried their faith together." They demonstrated throughout the voyage and in their last moments, interfaith compassion in their relationship with the men and with each other. In 1960 Congress created a special Congressional Medal of Valor, never to be repeated again, and gave it to the next of kin of the "Immortal Chaplains."

* * *
Eternal Father, Strong to Save
Text, William Whiting • Music, John B. Dykes

Verse 1
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Verse 2
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Verse 3
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Verse 4
O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Historical Notes:

Eternal Father Strong to Save is known to United States Navy men and women as the “Navy Hymn”. It is a musical benediction that has had a long and special appeal to seafaring men. The original words were written in 1860 as a hymn by a schoolmaster and clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. William Whiting (1825-1878), following his survival of a furious storm in the Mediterranean. In 1861 the words were adapted to music by another English clergyman, the Rev. John B. Dykes (1823-1876).

In 1879, the late Rear Adm. Charles Jackson Train, an 1865 graduate of the Unites States Naval Academy at Annapolis, was a lieutenant commander stationed at the Academy in charge of the Midshipman Choir. In that year, Lt. Comder. Train inaugurated the present practice of concluding each Sunday’s Divine Services at the Academy with the singing of the first verse of the hymn. This hymn was a personal favorite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had served as Secretary of the Navy, and was sung at his funeral at Hyde Park in 1945. It was also played as President John F. Kennedy’s body was carried up the steps of the Capitol to lie in state in 1963.

Over the years, additional verses have been written to this moving and inspiring melody.

* * *
Flag Folding Ceremony

In the Armed Forces of the United States, at the ceremony of retreat, the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body. But further, America’s freedom has proved that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Our military knows this best. So America celebrates Memorial Day and Veterans Day so that all Americans will remember its fallen heroes and veterans. At a veteran’s funeral, the casket is draped with a flag, which is then folded into a triangle and given to the family “on behalf of a grateful nation.” That folding ceremony has a special meaning. (Please refer to The Providence Forum’s flag folding piece in your program.)

• The first fold is a symbol of life.
• The second fold is a symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
• The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks and who
gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.
• The fourth fold represents our weaker nature; for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to
Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.
• The fifth fold is a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our Country, in dealing
with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
• The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our hearts that we pledge allegiance to the
flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under
God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
• The seventh fold is a tribute to our Armed forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we
protect our country and our flag against all enemies, whether they be found within or without
the boundaries of our republic.
• The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that
we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
• The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood, for is has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion
that the character of the men and women who have made this country great has been molded.
• The tenth fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense
of our country since he or she was first born.
• The eleventh fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David
and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
• The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies,
in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Source: U.S. Air Force Academy’s website:

* * *
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
Text, Julia Ward Howe • Music, William Steffe, Arr. Wilhousky

Verse 1
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

Verse 2
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
l can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on.

Verse 3
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnish`d rows of steel,
"As ye deal with my contemners, So with you my grace shall deal;"
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel
Since God is marching on.

Verse 4
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Verse 5
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

History of the Battle Hymn of the Republic

In Charleston, South Carolina in 1853 a preacher, William Steffe, wrote a hymn, a camp meeting song evangelists called a “good shouter”. It went: “Say brothers will you meet us on Canaan’s happy shore. To watch the Jordan roar.” The melody caught on but the words didn’t. Sailors and soldiers made up their own words to the tune, upsetting Steffe. He had been trying to glorify God in his song and others turned it into a distasteful bar song. He thought himself, and his labor for the Lord, a failure.

Then, a visitor from Vermont, Thomas Bishop picked up the tune while visiting the South. He returned to the North to join an infantry battalion stationed in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. Soon after, abolitionist John Brown made his attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Bishop decided to dramatize that event in song. He put together a marching song for the Tiger Battalion to the tune Steffe created: “John Brown’s body lies a moulderin’ in the grave. But his soul goes marching on.” Steffe would not have liked it – a Northerner using a melody written by a Southerner to arouse the anti-slave camps in the North.

In 1862 the Tiger Battalion went to fight in defense of Washington. As usual, they broke into their marching song. As they passed by the Capitol steps, three individuals stood watching. One, a woman, embarrassed by the crude, offensive words of their song, turned to the gentleman next to her and asked “Why is it that young men must go forth to die with such obscenities on their lips and with filth as their Battle Hymn?” The gentleman, President Abraham Lincoln, tall, gaunt, and in his characteristic stove pipe hat, turned to her and answered, “Why don’t you do something about it?”

That evening, Julia Ward Howe, renowned poet, prayed for God’s help to write joyful, hopeful words for soldiers to sing as they marched into battle. Inspired by God, she penned the words that we now know as The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which have been sung by soldiers of war ever since. Finally, the right words for William Steffe’s melody!

* * *

The history of Taps, that most recognizable of all military bugle calls, is somewhat cloudy, sorting itself into “history” and “legend”. Herein we present both, courtesy:

The Legend
“It all began in 1862, during the Civil War, when a Union Army Captain (Robert Ellicombe) was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moan of a boy who lay mortally wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the Captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention. Crawling on his stomach through gun fire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered that it was actually a Confederate soldier, but he was dead.

“The Captain lit a lantern. Suddenly he caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light – he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son. The boy had been studying music in the South and when the war broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate Army without telling his father.

“The following morning, the heartbroken father asked for permission of his superiors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain asked if he could have the army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the services. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. Out of respect for his father, they did give permission for the use of only one musician. The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of his son’s uniform.

“The wish was granted. The music was the haunting melody we now know as “Taps” which is played at all military funerals.”

Written by Historian Elizabeth May, first published in the American Legions Post Newsletter.

The History
The melody that gave the present day “Taps” was made during the Civil War by Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield, in command of a brigade camped at Harrison Landing, Virginia, near Richmond. Up to that time, the U.S. Army infantry call to end the day was the French final call “L’Extinction des feux”. General Butterfield decided the “lights out” music was too formal to signal the end of the day. One day in July 1862, he recalled the “Tatoo” music and hummed a version of it to an aide who wrote the melody down. Butterfield asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Morton, to play the notes, and after listening, he lengthened and shortened them while keeping the original melody.

Thereafter, General Butterfield ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day instead of the regular call. The music was heard and appreciated by the other brigades, who asked for copies and adopted it for their own use. It was even adopted by the Confederates.

The melody was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but was not given the name “Taps” until 1874.

The first time “Taps” was played at a military funeral may have been in Virginia, soon after Butterfield composed it. Union Captain John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it played for the burial of a cannoner killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the position of the battery, Tidball substituted “Taps” for the three rifle volleys fired over the grave.

Source: “U.S. Army Military District of Columbia Fact Sheet”

* * *
A Meditation on Liberty
Dr. Peter A. Lillback

Speaking of the U.S. Marines who took Iwo Jima in World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz said, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Is valor even a virtue today among common Americans? Has America broken faith with those who have died for our liberty? The danger of this possibility was known years before by our nation’s Founders. President Thomas Jefferson said, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty”. The great sage of our Founders, Benjamin Franklin, put it this way, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

As our Star Spangled Banner continues to wave over our nation that has been the land of the free and the home of the brave, let us never forget John Adams’ words to his wife Abigail Adams, on July 17, 1775, “Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” As the young Abraham Lincoln observed on January 27, 1838, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” May Old Glory remind us, even as our Great Liberty Bell silently yet boldly does, to “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

For Benjamin Franklin speaks for every true American’s heart, when he declares, “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” That country is still the land of Old Glory, “the land of the free, and the home of the brave;” a land “with liberty and justice for all.” But as we say those words, consider Francis Scott Key’s question in our own historical context, “O say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” In Key’s historical setting, his question was about the flag. The question for us today is about the “land of the free." We still have the flag. But do we still have our freedom? Your personal commitment to liberty will determine the answer to this question.

* * *
The American Oaths

The American’s Creed

While most Americans know there is a Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and many can still recite it, nearly everyone has forgotten that there is an “American’s Creed”.

The American's Creed was a result of a nationwide contest for writing a National Creed, which would be a brief summary of the American political faith founded upon things fundamental in American history and tradition. Over three thousand entries were received, and William Tyler Page was declared to be the winner. James H. Preston, the mayor of Baltimore, presented an award to Page in the House of Representatives Office Building on April 3, 1918. The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the commissioner of education of the state of New York accepted the Creed for the United States, and the proceedings relating to the award were printed in the Congressional Record of April 13, 1918.

The author of the American's Creed, William Tyler Page, was a descendant of John Page, who had come to America in 1650, and had settled in Williamsburg, Virginia. Another ancestor, Carter Braxton, had signed the Declaration of Independence. Still another ancestor, John Tyler, was the tenth president of the United States. William Tyler Page had come to Washington at the age of thirteen to serve as a Capitol Page. Later he became an employee of the Capitol building and served in that capacity for almost sixty-one years. In 1919 he was elected clerk of the House. Thirteen years later, when the Democrats again became a majority party, they created for Page the office of minority clerk of the House of Representatives. He held this position for the remainder of his life.

Referring to the Creed, Page said: "It is the summary of the fundamental principles of the American political faith as set forth in its greatest documents, its worthiest traditions, and its greatest leaders." His wording of the Creed used passages and phrases from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and Daniel Webster's reply to Robert Y. Hayne in the Senate in 1830.

"I believe in the United States of America as a Government of the people by the people, for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a Republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies."

* * *
Other Oaths taken by Americans

The Oath of Citizenship
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.”

Oath of Enlistment
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the Untied States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the uniform code of military justice. So help me God.”

The Oath of the Office of President
"I, name, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." [“So help me God”, though not required by the Constitution, has been said after the oath by every President, since George Washington set the precedent at his first inauguration.]

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