"I awoke in the grey of the morning, and as I lay waiting for dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to entwine themselves in my mind, and I said to myself, 'I must get up and write these verses, lest I fall asleep and forget them!' So I sprang out of bed and in the dimness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered using the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper." - Julia Ward Howe
Just before the Civil War began Julia Ward Howe met a challenge that she received to write better words for one of the American melodies of the time. Her effort was rewarded when the new words were accepted by the populous. The song became one of the most famous of that era.
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" will be sung in churches throughout the land as we celebrate and memorialize the soldiers who fought for this great land of ours.
One of the best programs we ever did was a songfest of patriotic melodies. I was still in elementary school. We learned the songs as well as the history behind them. It was a unit that I will always remember.
There were songs from all of the war eras up to that point. We learned how the songs stirred the patriots to action. We heard how they comforted those left at home to carry on. We heard how the songs were used in funeral processions for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
This song has always been one of my favorites. There are four verses in all. When we sing it I always hope that all of the verses will be included. I do not believe there is a song that stirs the emotions more than this one. The music, of course, contributes to the popularity.
Here I digress to mention that my husband and I used to have heated discussions about what popularized songs. He was of the opinion that the words made the song. I took the opposite view. I felt that the melody was what made a song popular. The one with that melody that you just could not get out of your head was the one that stuck.
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is not lacking in either of these areas. I am not sure what brought it to the forefront, but it could have been either the strong melody or the words that created pictures of the troops during the battle.
This song was a Civil War-era song. It is said that when Abraham Lincoln heard it for the first time he had one request. That request was that the song be sung again.
During that same school program that I recalled I was lucky enough to be given a solo to sing. I got to sing "America, the Beautiful." While I sang, the American flag billowed behind me. I had to be extremely careful not to get in the way of that fan. The audience applauded with gusto, not because I sang so well I am sure, but because it was a dramatic moment in the program.
We have a rich heritage of music. There are hymns as well as patriotic songs that bring us to tears. The sacrifices of the many that fought during the wars that span the years are remembered on this Memorial Day weekend. One of the most impressive parts of the local Memorial Day service is the Roll Call of the Wars. As they call off the wars drum rolls separate them.
Take time to teach the value of the heritage that we have in this country. As wreaths are placed and flags are flown take time to visit a cemetery somewhere. With our population as mobile as it has become not many of us return to the burial ground of our youth. That does not mean you cannot celebrate this national holiday. It means you celebrate with the community that you are a part of.
School bands will play. National Guard units will march and do rifle salutes. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will be part of this historic weekend. The next generation needs to know the significance of the ceremony that we know as Memorial Day. Patriotism is not dead. It may be lulled to sleep at times, but it must be revived if we are to remain a strong nation. We must feel pride in our country.
Politics should not be a part of patriotism. This country was founded on the values of God and country. We cannot whitewash our values and come out on top. First and foremost we owe allegiance to God, then, we owe allegiance to our country.
Prayer of St. Frances of Assisi - from "Hope for Each Day" by Billy Graham
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life!
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.