“Defence of Fort M’Henry”

Friday, September 19th, 2014


Sometimes business trips work out as planned; most times, such plans do not work out; from time to time, a trip exceeds one’s hopes and plans.

I’m fond of Baltimore. Big enough, small enough, familiar enough and foreign enough to offer adventure at every visit even though I gravitate to my favorites in Little Italy, Fells Point, the Harbor and about Roland Park.

Last week’s trip began in the usual way with an on-time departure that only got as far as 500 yards from the gate. We parked due to “traffic control issues”, meaning that the airline got an AttaBoy for leaving on-time even though the airline authorities knew that we’d have to wait before actually taking-off. Isn’t it funny that on-line departure refers to leaving the gate and not leaving the ground. Next time that someone leaves our house, I’ll say that they’ve departed even if I can see them standing in the driveway.

Arrived at BWI in a drizzle, in company with many Yankee fans for the weekend baseball series. I expected better performance from the New Yorkers in Derek Jeter’s final season. Happily, the Os are well ensconced in first place of their division. The day concluded in the drizzle, the Os lost in the rain and I returned to Fort Marriott to watch Navy football on my in-room tv. Willie Loman, who art thou?

Sunday was a new day in a new way. Ironically, it truly was a Sun-Day. Bright light showered from clear skies from the rise of the sun to its exchange with the moon. In between, I joined – without being invited or even being aware – the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the composition of our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner (SSB). Francis Scott Key, imprisoned on a British warship in Baltimore Harbor, so described the bombardment of Fort McHenry by our English cousins – actually former landlords at that time.

I believe that this SSB Commemoration is part of the Bicentennial Celebration of the War of 1812. It would be inaccurate to call this program of semi-national festivities a celebration because, well, no one is celebrating it actually. Which is curious in an historical context and typical of Americans and our reverence or even awareness of the events that conspired to propel us to where we are in time. By the way, stunned was I to silence a few years ago when neither my high school nor middle school sons could not confidently place the Revolutionary War, The Civil War nor WW2 within 5 year windows. They knew the order of, shall we say, battle, but not the years. I suppose that they could just ‘look it up’ if necessary.

The War of 1812 was important in the development of America’s 19th century future. For starters, winning this war or, at least, not losing it, enabled us to remain independent of Great Britain. The War of 1812 reflects a poignant case of Buyers Remorse on the part of the British. Having banished Napoleon to Elbe in May of 1814, it seemed as though the Brits were eager to renegotiate the lease-buyback agreement with the Colonies, now charmingly referred to as the United States of America.

Taking a tough negotiation stance, the English pillaged Washington, D.C., burning the White House in August of 1814. Although the Treaty of Ghent in December of 1814 technically concluded the fighting between the USA and Great Britain, had the Americans not decisively defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, the English might have reneged on the agreement. Word travelled at much less than Internet speed in that time (“I’ll get right back to you in about 60 days.”). Until 1861, the Battle of New Orleans was celebrated as the second victory for American Independence. As Louisiana sided with the Confederates in the Civil War, there was little national inclination to continue to celebrate its prominence in keeping the country free from the British.

As I enjoyed a fish N chips lunch in the splendid Baltimore Harbor with a view of the Coast Guard’s training vessel, Eagle, a band from one of the visiting Navies set-up nearly in front of our table. At 1030am sharp, a soprano voice from the bandstand sang fluidly and enthusiastically our National Anthem. My view was of many hundreds, planted in all directions, standing in silence, absorbing every phrase of our anthem. Over the bow of the Eagle, one could see a section of Fort McHenry.

I’ve been to many military parades and plenty of sporting events where the SBB inaugurates the occasion. I love this song and am transcended by its relationship to the events in my life. Never have I been so moved by a rendition. The gent in front of me wore a tee-shirt with the words of the SBB on its back. For once, I read along as the soprano sang.

Later that afternoon, a friend remarked that Americans seem to be unique in their reverence for the national flag at public events. I’m not certain that this is accurate as I see plenty of country flags at televised soccer matches. It is true that Americans love our flag and whatever it may represent to the individual. Maybe it’s because this flag makes us all Americans which is a splendid and deeply gratifying thought for me if true. Nonetheless, my Sun-day in Baltimore began beautifully, inspired by a couple of minutes of collective reflection with hundreds and hundreds of strangers who happen to be my fellow Americans.

Later in the day, I ventured to the Walters Museum on Monument Square. Touring the Square, I stood in front of the United Methodist Church reading that Francis Scott Key died there in 1843 in its previous incarnation as the home of his daughter, Elizabeth Howard. At that moment, the six Navy Blue Angels flew right overhead enroute to a scheduled performance above the Harbor. Impressive, for certain, and might even give the British something to ponder in case that they ever consider a three-peat.

Unexpected as they were spectacular in tight formation only meters apart at the highest speeds, they were the second most impressive event of my day.

“O Say Can You See?”