Hurrah for the Flag of the Free

July 4, 1976 marked the United States Bicentennial and the peak of summer following my eighth-grade graduation. Leading up to America’s 200th birthday, the early 1970s represented a tumultuous time in our country, embroiled in political scandals such as Watergate, Vietnam war protests, rising inflation and marginalized minority groups fighting for equality. The evening news reported the events of the day with anything but optimism.

For months that spring and summer, though, I had seen countless ads promoting an all-day United States Bicentennial celebration set to air on every network channel. The programming would include festivities with elaborate fireworks, a parade led by Johnny Cash, appearances by notable world leaders and celebrities, live music and more. I had imagined that this was going to be the major television event of the century, and I had my heart set on watching it.

Unfortunately, my dad had other plans for our family that day.

Dad loved to go for long adventurous drives. So on July 4th, I found myself silently pouting in the backseat of our station wagon as we drove home to Phoenix after a trip to Prescott, Arizona. All day, I kept obsessively checking the time, praying that we would pull into the driveway just in time for me to catch the grand finale on TV.

Finally, we were home. My dad had barely pulled his foot off the brake when I leapt out of the car and flipped on our TV. “Please, please, please, pleeeaaassssee, let it still be on!” I anxiously begged to myself.

While I had missed much of the day’s pageantry, I found the final moments of the live celebration still in progress. Soon, our living room was filled with the sound of the Boston Pops performing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as I sat utterly captivated, virtually connected to the flag-waving crowd. That moment, even so brief as it was, is still frozen in my memory to this day. When I heard the vocalists sing “Hurrah for the flag of the free!” it was as though all the problems that had been riddling our country didn’t matter. It was a moment of pure hope and joy, rigorous optimism and unity. I can’t fully express how much that performance moved me – changed me, even – and I think about that night every July 4th as I reflect on what America means to me.

While I love the holiday fireworks and barbecues, I appreciate the sentiment behind Independence Day even more. It’s a day to give thanks for freedom and celebrate hope. I wish you all a “hurrah for the flag” moment of your own this weekend. Meanwhile, the lyrics to our national march are below, and you can watch the U.S. Marine Band perform “Stars and Stripes Forever” here.

Happy 4th of July!

“The Stars and Stripes Forever,” words and music by John Philip Sousa (1896)

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.