For me, there is a special time between Memorial Day and Independence Day. These holidays, so close together, are when I think most about my country, what it stands for and why I’m glad I’m an American.
We define our beliefs in many ways, and one of the ways we express ourselves is reflected in the songs we sing, especially during wartime. Those songs, which I so clearly remember, have become more meaningful to me this year.
Thanks to my father, who served in World War I, I can repeat the lyrics to a special song of that time. Dad sang it around the campfire at our summer cottage. I can still hear his voice: “Keep the home fires burning, while our hearts are yearning. Though our lads are far away, they dream of home. There’s a silver lining, through the dark clouds shining …” I love the words. There’s hope within them and a yearning for a better world.
I was a teenager during World War II and the song I loved best was once again filled with hope. I associate it with D-Day. We recently commemorated its 70-year anniversary: “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow when the world is free. There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after.” It sometimes makes me cry to remember the optimism then, compared to what our world is like today.
Another song I recall from that war was sung about the Royal Air Force pilots who flew their planes over Germany from bases in England. It was a song of faith: “Coming in on a wing and a prayer. Coming in on a wing and a prayer. With our full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord …” Could God even be mentioned today without offending someone?
I don’t recall any songs from the war in Korea, and only one from Vietnam: “Pin silver wings on my son’s chest. Make him one of America’s best. He’ll be a man they’ll test one day. Have him win the Green Beret.” The theme this time was not one of hope and peace but a continuation of another generation that would go to war.
And sadly, no songs of hope have come from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I’ve omitted the War of 1812, usually forgotten except for the song it inspired – our national anthem. It is a stirring song, but it’s hard for me to sing, and sometimes even professionals forget the words or try to vary the tune to their own liking. It again has an ending of hope that we will always be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
For me, however, the song that most moves me was sung just before World War II and throughout that horrendous time. Many reading this won’t even remember Kate Smith, the woman who made “God Bless America” unforgettable. She would stand on the stage, alone, with just a microphone – no flashing lights, no special costume or effects, no booming sound system. She just stood there singing: “While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea … God Bless America. Land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her … God Bless America. My home sweet home.”
As the Fourth of July approaches, I think about the frightening world in which we live today. There are no new songs to sing, and that’s sad. So I hang on tight to the old songs, filled with hope. I want Smith to sing once more, inside my head and my heart, “God Bless America.”