A patriotic season
June 1, 2010
The months of May through July are the most patriotic months of the year, starting with Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, through the 4th of July. Memorial Day is the day we honor all veterans who have died in the service of their country. In cemeteries all around the United States, local ceremonies are held, flowers are planted, and flags are flown, showing our reverence and appreciation for our veterans.
Traditionally, the President or the Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier every Memorial Day, demonstrating that every American will not forget all those who have fallen to defend our freedoms, and “our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The sign at the entrance greeting visitors states, “This is our nation’s most sacred shrine.”
Colorado has a special connection to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va. The marble for the tomb was mined in a quarry in Marble, Colo., a western slope town. Additionally, the marble for the Lincoln Memorial came from the same Marble site.
Flag Day is celebrated every year on June 14. Although not a national holiday, an Act of Congress in August 1949 established Flag Day. The Second Continental Congress of 1777 adopted the Stars and Stripes flag, sewn by Betsy Ross, as ordered by President George Washington. Her house, about four blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, is a major tourist attraction.
July 4, is America’s birthday and we celebrate it everywhere with fireworks, parties and parades. Scholars say that when John Hancock made his signature on the Declaration of Independence in very large letters he remarked, “so that the King of England can read my name without his glasses.”
But one’s patriotism doesn’t end with the 4th of July. It continues on at every ballpark, from Little League, to college games, to the Majors when the flag is raised and the crowds stand respectfully for the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Men take off their hats, and with their hands over their hearts, join in singing of our nation’s song. Children silently watch their elders, realizing the importance of our country’s national anthem. The poem was composed by Francis Scott Key, while British ships’ guns futilely blasted away at Fort McHenry near Baltimore in the War of 1812. “And our flag was still there,” he wrote.
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Songs have always played an important part in American history. The most important song during WWII was “God Bless America” sung by Kate Smith. In the era of pre-television and computers, newspapers and magazines were the basic tools of written communication. But the radio became the mainstay in everyone’s home. Everyone owned and listened to their radio to find out what was happening around the world. Most families gathered after dinner around the living room radio for their entertainment.
During the daytime, the most popular daily radio show was “The Kate Smith Show,” hosted by her manager, Ted Collins. Around noontime, every woman waited for her to say, “Hello, everybody. This is Kate Smith.” She always ended with, “Thanks for listening,” followed by her theme song, “When the Moon comes over the Mountain.”
Kathryn Elizabeth Smith was born on May 1, 1907 in a little town outside of Washington, D.C. She had an extraordinary, beautiful singing voice, which she said “was given to her as a blessing,” since she’d never taken any voice lessons.
The year was 1938, 20 years after an armistice was called in WWI, a year before a peace treaty was signed. Ted Collins contacted Irving Berlin to ask if he could write a patriotic song for Kate Smith to sing on her radio show to commemorate the 20th anniversary. Berlin (an immigrant from Siberia whose family entered the country when he was age 5) had written a song in 1918, revised some of the lyrics and offered it free to Kate Smith.
She loved the song but declined the free offer. Irving and Kate decided that any profits made from the song would go to the Boys Club and Girls Club of America, since the clubs were non-denominational but they emphasized the importance of loyalty and patriotism. Through a Foundation he established, it remains that way even today. After his death, Berlin’s daughters donated the original manuscript to the Library of Congress in Washington.
On November 11, 1938, Kate Smith sang “God Bless America” on her show and the phones at radio stations all around the country rang off the hook. America loved it and Kate Smith. It became her song and America’s song to be sung at every public event.
After Pearl Harbor, they credit Kate Smith with raising $6 million in War Bonds during WWII. The song boosted the morale of our fighting men and women and it helped the morale of the civilians who waited for them to come home. The song is a prayer asking God to bless America, “My home, sweet home.”
President Reagan bestowed the U. S. Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award to Kate Smith on October 26, 1982 “for the comfort you gave our troops in WWII in Europe and the Pacific, and later in Korea and Vietnam.” He added,
“In giving us a magnificent, selfless talent like Kate Smith, God has truly blessed America.”
Kate Smith died on June 17, 1986 and, at her request, is entombed at St. Agnes Cemetery in Lake Placid,
New York. A stamp was issued by the U.S. Post Office on May 19, 2010 honoring this valiant woman, Kate Smith.