A 90th anniversary celebration of "The Star-Spangled Banner" officially becoming the national anthem of the United States took place Wednesday at Residence 600.
Residents sang and commemorated the event with help from the Salina VFW Auxiliary. Residence 600 is a senior living community at 600 E. Elm Street in Salina.
Kathy McCandless, junior vice president of the VFW Auxiliary was invited by Kim Rayas, executive director of Residence 600, to collaborate on an anniversary event.
“We thought it was a great idea,” said McCandless. “In addition to flags for everyone, we have commemorative coins for all veterans here today. On the back they say, thank you for your service.”
There were four veterans present among the 40 gathered for the festive outdoor ceremony.
The familiar lyrics of the song are from a poem written by lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key. The poem, entitled "The Defence of Fort McHenry," was written after Key witnessed the bombing of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.
The next morning he saw the flag still flying and began to write the patriotic poem. The flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes and it was sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill. The flag became known as The Star-Spangled Banner.
Key’s poem was matched with an English drinking song by John Stafford Smith and it became popular. The Navy adopted the anthem in 1899. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it the national anthem in 1916, but no legislative action was taken.
The VFW led the fight to make "The Star-Spangled Banner" the national anthem. It played a significant role by gathering over 4 million signatures on a petition in 1929. It still took until March 3, 1931 for Congress to pass a bill and President Hoover signed it into law the next day, March 4, 1931.
“It represents our freedom,” said Terry Rogers, one of the residents. “It’s about the sacrifice that makes it possible for us to be here in America.”
Rogers always feels a sense of pride when he hears the song played.
The VFW Color Guard was invited to present arms and they led the presentation of flags as the anthem was played in front of Residence 600 on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon.
One of those present pre-dated the 90th anniversary. Maxine Skaggs, 101, remembers the anthem from her childhood to this day.
“I think it’s important, but I don’t like it when they jazz it up,” Skaggs said.
Maxine and her husband Leland moved into Residence 600 when it first opened.
“We waited for them to build it," Maxine said. "We lived in Phillipsburg for 50 years, but came here in our 80s to be closer to medical care.”
“I’m also older than the women’s vote,” Maxine said with a smile.
Her husband Leland was a veteran who was assigned to Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters.
After the ceremony, everyone went inside for refreshments provided by the VFW Auxiliary. One of the veterans who received the commemorative coin was Eugene Rietbrock, who served in the Navy on aircraft carriers for 20 years.
“I remember hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner" when we were in port and they put everyone on deck,” Rietbrock said. “Everyone on the ground was watching us.”
“Hearing the national anthem really means a lot to all of us,” Rayas said as she thanked the VFW Auxiliary for the snacks and the celebration of the anniversary for her residents.
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