It’s been three years since I began a formal program of study in theology. The longer I have engaged in it, of course, the deeper and more involved the work has become. It’s not that I’ve written less, rather my concentration and activity have been drawn away from the whimsy and self-expression of this web log to more detailed and directed works. Some of those I posted here early on, however I have been sparing any followers from the fifteen- and twenty-page theological works of the last couple of years. The reading for these alone has stretched my mind to limits I didn’t know I had and coming closer to completion (in May ’17, with some hard work) these limits are being pushed back further and further. All this reading and research precedes that which will accompany an eighty-page thesis.
Sailing ‘Lifeline’ on Alum Creek Lake has also been affected. Classes have been held on Wednesday evenings at the same time the boat club races are held. As I’ve been attending school year ’round it has meant missing race night for the second year running. And this year, I haven’t trailer’d ‘Lifeline’ out of the lake to the larger venue of Lake Erie.
All this to say the experiences that have driven half of my essays on FaithandFlag.Wordpress.com have been siphoned off to other efforts and for the foreseeable future will continue in the same manner.
That’s not to say I haven’t been writing, just posting shorter works on other venues. If you’re interested, you’ll find professional commentary in a series of fifty essays at www.linkedin.com/in/johnzoll where I’ve been sharing both industrial notes and managerial content. Also, By-Dawn’s-Early-Light at www.facebook.com/By is a site dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. The recent posts there include comments on the controversy of whether our National Anthem is a racist poem, with links to CNN stories concerning the same.
(photo credit to the author. 1812 National Ensign is signed by the National Park Ranger who hoisted it over Ft. McHenry in June 2014. Signal flags are Charlie Mike and Bravo Zulu, welcoming grandchildren to our annual summer camp)
On, FaceBook, my nephew and I have set up a page to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. The page is called ‘By Dawn’s Early Light’.
All are encouraged to take photos of US Flags and upload them to the site to join the celebration.
The poem was written on September 13th, 1814, following the bombardment of Ft. McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore harbor. The fort withstood the bombardment, halted the naval advance, and the British army retreated from the field. The town was spared burning, a fate Washington DC suffered a month earlier.
Looking forward to your answer to the question, “O, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, o’re the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
I sat down at work to change my shoes, to put on steel toes to go into the industrial area. I work at the Rolls-Royce turbine assembly plant in Mt. Vernon, OH. As I looked up from the floor my gaze went to the window where I saw the VFW’s flag waving in the rainy breeze. “But of course,” I thought, “it’s at half-mast today.” It is September 11, 2014, the thirteenth anniversary of the tragic attack on our nation and the world by radical ideologues.
The day here in this little cross-road town in Middle America is gray from the passing weather front. The red, white, and blue stand out more on such a day, I think, in contrast to nature’s presentation and somehow this is where unexpected inspiration comes from.
It is a matter of fact and the natural course of world history making the United States the political and economic leader of free countries around the globe. The same natural course of history places this nation’s strength at the fore of the not-so-free governments and entities as a force to be reckoned with. The power of this nation is undeniable. It is a great responsibility we have inherited.
The power is envied. The wealth is desired. The responsibility to wield it is beyond any one person’s capability. All patriots together bear the burden of this responsibility. All of us, patriot or no, feel the pain in the thrust of the memory of the loss. Our tormentors continue to torment and they will twist this memory for as long as their own abilities survive. These are facts we face as a maturing nation and advancing peoples. These two burdens we must bear for they are inextricably tied together.
There was a time, two hundred years ago, when we were the tormentors, when this nation represented the terror and disorder against the powers of the world. Our ships, built and harbored in Baltimore, raided world trade. We invaded Canada. We marched on indigenous peoples and destroyed their homes and ways of life. We fought for the survival of our fledgling nation against the forces that would destroy it. Payments for our efforts included the burning of our capitol city, and the threatening repetition of that act against Baltimore. Baltimore stood, though, because the people, our people, shouldered the responsibility to defend her, and in doing so gave us a symbol to remember and an act to repeat. Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that will forever remind us of this act of responsibility, the sacrifice of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors.
We face no fewer threats this day than did those in Baltimore two-hundred years ago. We stepped onto the world’s stage in 1776 and defended our place on that stage in 1814. We committed acts of war as well as acts of terror to do so. We are leaders on that stage today and those that would oppose our way of life are the upstarts we once were. They attack our computer systems, steal our passwords and our wealth, behead our citizens, and shun their responsibilities knowing we cannot permit the vacuum to exist. They threaten our allies and our foes and create anarchy that we cannot permit to exist for long. They hurt us thirteen years ago at home using our own technology and freedoms against us. They can hurt us again using the same technologies and freedoms.
We have inherited the responsibility to exercise the ideals emblazoned in our own Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. “We, the People…” cannot cower from this responsibility. We must stand fast, whether we do so from a small cross-road in Middle America, or a metropolis on one of our coasts, or in our work and business around the globe, or even orbiting out in space. We must do so showing a unified front to our allies and our foes, even as we argue amongst ourselves about how best to continue to exercise the ideals that are embodied in us, the people that are these United States.
I looked out the window to see a tri-colored banner waving in the breeze. “Yes, Francis. Yes! That Star Spangled Banner still waves, o’re the land of the free, and the home of the brave!”
My wife and I are cleaning up the house this morning after a family party on our acre-and-a-quarter that lies across the county road from Alum Creek State Park. It’s a happy chore as my siblings and two of our children’s families were here, one visiting from Florida and another from ‘just down the road’. Mom and my brother and sisters have to travel just over an hour to get here so it’s an extra honor they chose to make the trip on a holiday when they all live only a few minutes apart from each other in our hometown. The yard is mostly picked up from yesterday, everyone naturally lending a hand to put away the croquette set, pick up the balls and bats from the game, and clearing all the food and trash away into proper receptacles. The Florida family is off to continue their summer trek, heading for New York State and I head to the basement to see what needs to get put away down there. And there they are, still bright and light in the red, white, and blue pattern hanging on the line.
The glow sticks are still glowing and an instant reminder of the glow of the night before as twelve of us covered the deck of my Catalina 22, Lifeline. Five adults and seven kids, age’s four to eleven (the kids ages and the adults’ equivalent anticipation) were motoring out onto the lake for the fireworks celebration of this Fourth of July. Our local sailing association joins with the local Power Squadron and any other volunteer boats to create a lighted boat parade for those thousands watching from the shore at Alum Creek State Park near Columbus in central Ohio, USA. Red, white, and blue chemical lights outlined the rigging fore-to-aft.
Earlier during the week, my daughter helped measure the distance up the backstay of the sailboat. We tied a quarter inch twisted nylon line to the main halyard and hauled it up to the top of the mast. She held the halyard taut while I pulled the line to the aft rail and marked the spot. We pulled the line down, replaced the halyard, and then wrapped the quarter inch line around a wooden yardstick. Four wraps and one length, twenty-seven feet. We did the same for the forestay and came up with twenty-five. Off to the local big-box store and I counted out twenty-seven four-inch chemical lights in the three patriotic colors. Eight necklace glow sticks were also taken for the package. I entertained some of my family during conversation in the afternoon with the tying of the lights to a section of the line used to measure, splicing an eye in one end of that and an end splice at the bitter end.
Aboard Lifeline, my son-in-law and I managed to get one of the kids to help with each of the tasks. We tried first to get them all to break the lights and shake them. The lights were too tough for the little hands. The wands were a different story, though, and each in turn was snapped and shook with the glee only children know of with such things. The adults snapped and shook the sticks. Then one child in turn hauled up the sticks aft and another the necklace wands, tied parallel to the line they were on, hauled up forward. The sun was still shining over the trees to the west and its rays overpowered the lights. The decorating was done and it was time to get under way.
The boys had said they wanted to handle the helm and with them at ages seven and nine I was excited to let them steer. But sitting forward of the mast is a much more exciting draw for these kids all total, and when the boys were directed by ‘Mamie’ to sit forward they were only too happy to oblige. One of the mothers was sitting all the way forward so they were bound to be somewhat restrained. The girls sat, four of them back-to-back amidships under the boom, just aft of the mast. Mamie was standing in the open hatch, and the other mother and one dad were back aft with me. The youngest, frustrated he could not get forward as well, was fidgeting in the cockpit between the four of us.
A steady stream of boats was leaving the marina to join whatever awaited on the open lake. The roaring of a few more powerful speed boats could be hear through the trees and down the channel. Running at idle speed we were only boat lengths apart from each other and working to match our speeds so as not to run up on each other. Changing motor speed is easy, one just throttles down. Slowing a boat in motion is another thing. Reversing the motor works, but is not so easy on outboard motors on sailboats. Other boaters on the lake were heading toward the beach area to the south and not a few were ignoring the channel markers. Changing speed was a frequent maneuver and when the lead boat in the channel had to slow, the train of boats behind pressed up one-to-another. Still, we were all moving slow enough to avoid the crossing pattern and head up the lake a mile to the marshalling point for the parade.
Alum Creek Sailing Association was well represented and the ‘crew’ on Lifeline had many ‘honors’ to render, saluting ‘Raven’ and Penguin II, Half Baked and La Vita, Lady, JOATMON, and Wicked Pissa. Time and Change sped toward the group and joined those circling. Wind Swept motored along-side Lifeline for some time. Many, many more sailboats were circling off shore from the State marina. A Coast Guard Auxiliary boat was holding station just outside that channel, amber safety lights turning. Some powerboats were with the sailboats outside. The bulk of those came out from the State marina all at once. The USCG Aux boat’s lights switched, and the white and red emergency lights signaled the start of our parade!
Thirty-foot power boats lined in all white, pontoon boats at twenty- and thirty-feet sported flags and red, white, and blue holiday lights. Some boats carried pinwheels, others those tubular kites trailing streamers. Those sailboats carrying similar lights switched them on and all moved as one behind the lead boats. One sailboat was flying half-dozen star-spangled banners from its foremast. Another had red holiday lights strung from its masthead to its boom, and blue ones from the masthead to the foredeck. Still another had electronic controlled lights that shown as comets or fireworks scattering all about its sail area in all the colors of the rainbow. This was Raven, and Lifeline’s crew liked this display the best.
A hundred plus boats all traveling in the same direction on Alum Creek Lake and in the dusk of the night was somewhat tedious to begin with. The sun was behind the trees and the lighting of the boats was unusual, when ahead of Lifeline a boat was showing its port broadside. “What is happening?” ran through my head as Half-Baked’s sun decal shown full ahead of me. There was time and room to slow and motor behind her, but I had to wonder what caused one of my shipmate skippers to come fully about inside the flotilla. My starboard turn showed me the answer. They had lost a cockpit pillow over the side and were coming back to retrieve it! “Curious time for a crew-overboard drill” I hollered at the skipper as we passed port-to-port. He laughed and both of us returned our gazes towards the other boats. His situation was the more precarious and I was happy to be clear of his intended path.
This event filled most of the attention of the space between the State marina and our own inlet, as we were now passing back down the lake to the south. Still more sailboats were heading out and my favorite appeared at the outmost marker in the channel. Sledgehammer was flying what looked to be a U.S. flag to be four or five foot along the hoist. The banner was reminiscent of the original Star-Spangled Banner, so large it was and such a statement it was making! Sledgehammers lights were mostly the lit-up tubular novelties the crew was waving on deck. There was no mistaking what the primary décor was.
Many of the parade boats peeled off the formation as we passed the secured area of the water from which the fireworks would be launched. These headed toward their selected anchorages. I steered Lifeline into the single line that was forming behind the Coast Guard, Sledgehammer some boat lengths ahead of me. The crowds cheered the parade, a gala of flashes from the shore. Yet, more flashes from the water. The parade course steered was flanked on both the shore side and the lakeside by anchored boats and their crews. Lifeline and the other crews were the subject of joyous observation and waved back at those cheering, surprised to be in the focus of so many on-lookers. We followed the several boats that remained in the parade past the four-hundred yards of beach.
It wasn’t over for us yet. There were thousands more spectators on top of the dam that marked the end of our southward course. We came to port and motored across the water, each parade boat to its own chosen point to observe the anticipated fireworks. Lifeline motored for a half-mile past the dam before I turned her back north toward the east side of the lake and left the spectators behind. There is a wake marker along the eastern shore we call ‘B’ for our local sailboat races. We know the water is shallower there and only a few boats chose to watch from that area. It is directly opposite our inlet channel on the west side of the lake.
The air was chilling as the boat turned into the wind. The children began shivering and one sweatshirt was passed around for two of them to huddle under together before it was passed to another pair. The rest huddled closer to one another while waiting their turns. I slowed Lifeline to a stop by idling the motor and turning first to port and then to starboard. She began to move backward in the wind and waves and I had my foredeck crew lower the anchor. Thirty feet went out before it hit bottom. I had them run out another thirty feet. For a longer-term anchorage, I should put out a minimum of five times the depth of water beneath the keel. I decided we would be ‘ok’ for the short term, watched the shoreline at two places, and was rewarded with a ‘holding station’ for the duration of the fireworks.
My shipmates from Alum Creek Sailing Association had not embellished at all when they described the sight of multiple fireworks from the lake. Directly across the lake, a mile off, we watched the sponsored event in full brilliance, doubled in delight by the reflection off the water of every spark and glint! Over the trees, we watched the lights from the cities of Delaware to the north and west, from Powell to the west. To the south and west were the fired delights of Worthington and directly south the city of Westerville entertained. What we thought were echoes of our own pyrotechnics turned out to be a show of sparkling explosions from the area of Sunbury or New Galena. All around the horizon the sky was exploding with color and drumming with sound. Not a child mentioned the chill on their skin, nor the need for the sweatshirt, not a child of any age. It was a wonderful show. And those glow sticks, they are still glowing, but not as brightly as the glow in my heart for the wonderful memory I have of the glowing faces of my crew.
The trip back was uneventful, if we discount the one boat motoring backwards and another crew shining a spotlight in the faces of others trying to navigate the channel. The more profound and important memory I want to share is the comment from one of my adult crew members, about how she hoped those who suffer from PTSD might be able to still enjoy such celebrations. I am career Navy and though I served in the Red Sea for Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I am aware that the Navy has seen little in war-at-sea as compared to other generations. Ashore is a different story these last fifteen years, since the 9-11 events and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands answered this country’s call and no matter the politics, they served and sacrificed. The celebration of this day is due to the same service and sacrifice of our predecessor patriots, who believed in the freedoms written in the Declaration and the Constitution that it bore. I wish too, that those so recently and so deeply affected, physically and mentally, might at some level be able to appreciate that which we celebrated this day.
Baltimore MD, 6-19-14
It is the 200th anniversary year of the Star-Spangled Banner. I am visiting the city with Mindy. It is my first physical trip to Baltimore ever, but only one of many visits I have made through my 54 years. My primary goal was to relax on vacation, my first in several years. I forgot that goal, and the books I brought to aid in my retreat, in the excitement growing inside me at being in the city and so near the flying of the Star-Spangled Banner.
I am, in my limited capacity, a historian by collecting things through my life I have observed were important to lives past. This trip I collected a symbol of America and intended it might become a small symbol to my family of the American Spirit, believing in the good accomplished by Americans through the centuries in a time when so many work to destroy that same spirit. I still believe!
So, with purposeful intend and to the exclusion of the reading, swimming, relaxations I should have given myself, I inserted the anxious uncertainty of travel, timing, and questionable opportunity of the purchase of some colored nylon to fly for only a few moments over a fortress no longer in use as such. Many, if not most, would call me crazy, certainly in need of a longer vacation. A few might recommend commitment. Why do this? The ‘whys’ of history are important to posterity.
Because the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag and the song, represent a country coming of age. Because it marks the first time the commitment to the idea that was born in the Declaration of Independence passed to and was defended by a new generation of Americans. Because the idea of the Declaration was once again defended by men, women, and even children alongside the few professionals that practiced ware at sea and ashore. The rich and prosperous stood with the laborers and servants, the free and enslaved blacks stood beside the whites. They all had the same things to lose. Homes, wharfs, businesses, ships, and food stores would be destroyed. The city of Washington D.C. was burned to the ground, including the White House and a yet unfinished Capitol building.
I leave the details of the knowledge of the war, including Baltimore’s role as a ‘nest of pirates’ to those dedicated to learning them and the professional historians. My interest began as a youth, perhaps because I am a child of the Bicentennial celebrations of the United States. I first learned of the Star-Spangled Banner around the age of ten. My parents purchased a volume of history books for children and I read every one. The story of Fort McHenry was in of those stories. And, to add depth, Mr. Key was standing on the deck of a sailing ship when he saw that Banner flying after the battle. I had been reading sailing stories for three years before getting this volume in hand. I read of the whaling fleets of the east coast ports, of John Paul Jones and Stephen Decatur, of the Constitution (Old Ironsides) and of the Perrys, one fighting on Lake Erie and one sailing to Japan. I was a sailor at heart as a boy with two feet firmly planted in the middle of Ohio farmland. Francis Scott Key was on the deck of a ship, sailing out to gain the release of a friend captured in Washington’s burning when both were detained before the battle for Baltimore. It is a sailor’s story, even if Mr. Key was a lawyer.
The Star-Spangled Banner as a song has been derided and disparaged since it was written and down through time. First, it was criticized because the tune it was set to is a drinking song. Later, Key’s grandson was imprisoned in the same Fort it flew over because he used his newspaper to voice his opposition to President Lincoln’s policies during the Civil War. It was argued that the song was so limited in scope, being about an obscure battle in an obscure war when the Congress and the country were debating what song should be our national anthem through the early 20th century. By mid-century people were burning flags in protest of the government policies and by the end of the 20th century artists were lauded in high social circles for their works where people stood on the flags and the artists splattered feces on the flags. Children in schools no longer have to pledge allegiance to the flag. Military service is all-volunteer, so less than ten percent of the nation has ever had to defend the flag with their lives. What was a symbol of coming of age of a nation is now so much about controversy. The song that gave so much excitement and confidence to a nation beaten down by war has become a nominal ritual at sporting events and few know the full verse of the poem.
I first served the flag as a color guard rifle bearer when I was ten. I saluted it and folded it as a Boy Scout, and tended its daily flying over our home with my sisters. I learned to sing about it and I learned all the verses at one time. Mindy and I still break into our bass and alto parts whenever we sing it, especially in crowds when others are silent or distracted. I served 20 years in the Navy and deployed six times for Norfolk, VA, including from 1990Aug ‘til 1991March for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the First Gulf War. Each time my ships returned I strove to be on deck and look to Fort Story on the south side of Hampton Roads channel into the Chesapeake Bay. I had no reason to doubt, ever, but Mr. Key’s question always resounded in my mind; “O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave…” I wanted to see that it did, similar to how Key saw it, where the fog of the sea and the haze of the land meet.
Fort McHenry is on the north end of the Chesapeake Bay while Fort Story is on the south end. Land and sea still create a fog and haze mix that may at times obscure the view of the flag over Fort McHenry. It was not so on the day of my visit. On Tuesday evening prior, from the upper deck of a dinner cruise ship, I saw the fort outline, back lit by the sunset, by a sky so blazingly bright orange that the fort was but an inky shadow in front of it. The day of June 18th, 2014, I would step ashore from the water taxi under a blazing sun, bright blue sky, and a wind growing to fifteen knots and beyond. I knew I was on hallowed ground, for from here Americans would finally know they had a manifest destiny.
Park Ranger Elizabeth White, a theology student at The Franciscan University, Steubenville OH and a self-described ‘navy brat’ of Annapolis MD, helped me hoist my new flag the 92’ over Fort McHenry. We let the flag fly for about five minutes next to the existing garrison banner. Together, we lowered the flag and folded it. We tied off the hoist and I unfolded the hoist edge of the new banner. I marked it with the date and asked Ranger White to write her name and position. I was creating a piece of history, and this I hope will aid in authenticating the flag, if desired, in the future.
My hope is that my children, grandchildren, and future generations will find among themselves someone who will care for this 200th anniversary banner, that they will return it to Fort McHenry every 25 years and hoist it once again. My hope is, that as the George Armistead family cared for the original banner, my family will care for this banner, and will ask the question asked by Francis Scott Key with the same anxiety and fervor,
“O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, ‘ore the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
John L. Zoll
June 19th, 2014
The original handwritten story is kept with the flag in an unremarkable college ruled notebook. My wife suggested it be used by those who make the trip back to Baltimore with the flag and record their trips. There is also a DVD produced for the National Park Service that tells (told) the story at the Fort’s visitor center. (There, at the end of the film, they raise the movie screen while playing the song. Behind the screen is a window looking up the hill at the fort with one of the weather appropriate banners waving in the breeze.)
These items will remain together as Providence allows. I hope they will inspire others to be so dedicated to the values professed in the documents of our American experiment, and those so professed through the years.
I embraced a ten-day vacation and only the first day was spent on the water under sail. That evening was the subject of my last entry, including photos of some of the vessels involved. I was not far from the water, though, traveling to Baltimore, MD and visiting parts of what was once the third largest seaport in the new United States and still receiving large numbers of ocean going sailors and ships. I could feel the ocean in my being, so close to the tide was I.
Seeking more of that feeling I turned to the story of Queen Elizabeth through the movie, Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I listened to the words of one of her sailors, Sir Walter Raleigh. Contrived as they may be for the film, such an adventure they profess. Sailing my vessel Lifeline at three-to-five knots, I have an appreciation of the words presented.
“Can you imagine what it is to cross an ocean?”
“For weeks, you see nothing but the horizon, perfect and empty. You live in the grip of fear; fear of storms – fear of sickness on board – fear of the immensity. So you must drive that fear deep into your belly, study your charts, watch your compass. Pray for a fair wind, and hope…pure,… naked,…fragile… Hope.”
“At first, it’s no more than a haze on the horizon. Sow you watch,… you watch. Then, it’s a smudge, a shadow on the foul water. For a day,… for another day. The stain slowly spreads along the horizon taking form, until, on the third day you let yourself believe,… you dare to whisper the word… land. Land! Life! Resurrection! The true adventure, coming out of the vast unknown, out of the immensity, into new life.”
“That, your majesty, is the New World.”
The words mean more than just the story of a sailing voyage, though. We live in that New World. That “pure, naked, fragile hope” spoken of is the ember, the burning desire that begins what was and remains the American Dream. It is the reason for our Declaration of Independence, the reason so many of our predecessors would give themselves in servitude for seven years (indentured servitude) for the privilege of crossing the ocean to live here. It is the reason why fifteen thousand men, women, and children – servants, slaves, and free would stand side-by-side to defend Baltimore in September of 1814, and look for that Star Spangled Banner flying over Fort McHenry; why freed slaves would labor for the Union Army to build their war machines (railroad), and what four million of the Greatest Generation would give their lives in service to defend from Nazi oppression in World War II.
That “pure, naked, fragile hope” is the reason so many travel through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico to come into our country, so many board sinking vessels to cross the Caribbean, so many still sell themselves in servitude for passage from Asia. It is the reason Lady Liberty, standing in New York harbor, is still seen in the minds of all of those so struggling. The lamp she lifts is the light that leads the way to all who seek to build on their pure, naked, fragile dreams, no matter the points they come from on the compass nor what vast, foreboding ocean they must cross because they seek the smudge on the horizon and hope that it grows into the land of freedom.