For years, while the national anthem was being played at a sports event, I really didn’t think about much. Unless the anthem was done really well or really poorly, my mind was just blank.
As a young man in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I didn’t look at the flag. I just looked at the floor.
I never raised a fist, à la John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Olympics, but I sympathized with them. I was not proud of my country during the Vietnam War, lagging civil rights for everyone except white men, abuse by law enforcement officials of peaceful protestors, the Nixon presidency and Love-It-Or-Leave-It bumper stickers.
In the 45 years since the Mexico City Olympics, we as a nation have come a long way. We’re far from perfect and the pace of progress has been agonizingly slow. But I am proud to be an American.
Our progress, along with public-address-announcer duties, has changed my response to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
As a PA announcer at Columbus North High School, one of my duties is to introduce the national anthem. I’ve had to decide how best to do that.
I started with “Now, to honor our country, please rise ...”
Certainly adequate, but nothing that makes anyone stop and think about what we’re doing.
I eventually switched to “Now, to honor our country and all those who have served it ...”
I wanted people to think about men and women in active duty. I also wanted them to think about military veterans, first responders and employees of federal, state and local governments, including teachers.
In the past year, I have realized that millions of people who never received a government paycheck have helped our country big-time in a multitude of ways. Simply honoring people who have worked for our country seemed inadequate. As a result, I made another change.
“Now, to honor our country and all of its people, past and present, please rise ...”
After saying that, I stand with my right hand on my heart, looking at the flag. While the anthem plays, I think of people who are or have been in the military. I think of my parents, who each had long careers in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I think of custodians. I think of firefighters and police officers. I think of our Founding Fathers.
I think of the poor souls who, starving and nearly naked, fought for our newborn country against the British. I think of the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. I think of mothers and fathers who have raised their children.
I don’t think of the same people every time. Each time the anthem plays, my reflections are different.
Each time that I reflect on the individuals who call this country home, I feel positive, proud and joyful.
Next time you hear the national anthem at an event, feel free to join me. It can be quite an experience.
Tim Vrana is a community columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.