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What Does Citizenship Mean To You?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Chad Beam
  • 43rd Operations Support Squadron
My daughter's elementary school celebrated their 25th Citizenship Day today. Honorable Rick Glazier, North Carolina House of Representatives, will give a speech at the day's end. These individuals, like many others in our local and military communities, serve tirelessly and represent all American citizens. They represent the core meaning of citizenship. Citizenship means being loyal to a state in which sovereign power is retained by the people, and citizenship is one of our most coveted gifts. Our American citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Citizens pay taxes, obey the law and serve our country's military if called to do so. Citizenship means having freedom and rights, being treated fairly and respecting and helping others. Finally, citizenship is working together to do what one person can't do alone. 

The American flag is one of the most significant symbols of our American heritage. Let me tell you a true story about our flag: 

The American colonies were engaged in a long war with Great Britain in which many prisoners had been taken. The British were holding American prisoners 1,000 yards off the shore. The Americans sent a man out to discuss their release. His name was Francis Scott Key. On that particular day, Key went out to the ship to discuss a prisoner exchange in which an agreement was made. Key went down below and found it full of men. He told the men they'd be freed from the filth and chains holding them prisoners in that British ship. As he went back up on board to arrange the release, the British Admiral said to him, "We have a slight problem. We will still honor our commitment to release these men, but after tonight it won't matter. Tonight we have laid an ultimatum upon the colonies. Your people will both surrender and surrender their flag or, you see that fort right over there, Fort McHenry? We're going to destroy it." 

Key asked how that would happen. 

The admiral told him to scan the horizon of the sea. As Key did, he saw hundreds of ships. The admiral said, "That's the entire British fleet. All of the gun power, all of the armament is being called upon to destroy that fort. It will be within striking distance in about 2.5 hours." Key responded, "You can't shell that fort. It's full of women and children. It's not a military fort." The admiral told Key not to worry and informed him of the British plan, "Do you see that flag way up on the rampart? We have told them if they lower that flag, the shelling will stop immediately. We'll know they've surrendered, and they will then be under British rule." Key went down below and relayed the message. 

As twilight began to fall, the British unleashed. The sound was deafening, the dark sky lit up from gunfire. From below, Key could hear the men saying, "Tell us where the flag is. Is the flag still flying?" 

Every time the bomb exploded close to the flag, they could still see the flag in the illuminated red glare of the bomb and Key would report to the men below. "It's still up. It's not down!" 

"Your people are insane," the admiral said. "Don't they understand this is an impossible situation? We have now instructed all of the guns to focus on the rampart to take that flag down. We don't understand. Our reconnaissance tells us that flag has been hit directly again and again and yet it's still flying. But now we will bring every gun for the next three hours to bear on that point." 

The attack was unmerciful. All Key could hear was the men down below praying, "God, keep that flag flying where we last saw it." 

At sunrise the next morning, there was a heavy mist hanging over the land and there stood the flag, completely non-descript, in shreds. The flag pole itself was at a crazy angle, but the flag was still there. 

Key went ashore and immediately went into Fort McHenry to see what had happened. 

The flagpole and flag had suffered many hits and when it had fallen, men who knew what it meant for that flag to be on the ground walked over and held it up knowing that all British guns were focused on it. Many of them died holding it in place. What held that flagpole in place at that unusual angle were those Patriots, those American citizens . . . 

O say can you see. By the dawn's early light. What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming. Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight. O'er the rampart we watched was so gallantly streaming. And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there. O say does that star spangled banner yet waive. O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

The debt was demanded. The price was paid. American citizenship is both an honor and privilege. Cherish the freedoms and rights that you have. Election Day is just around the corner -- no matter what box you check, take the time to exercise one of the many freedoms that we have as American citizens.