Kneelers, Sappers and “We the People”

I guess I should start by saying what the National Anthem means to me. It transcends politics, rising above our human and national imperfections. It is owned by neither Republican or Democrat. For generations it’s been sung at civic and sporting events. It has tested the vocal range of many a singer. But even during those off-key moments,  we stood, hand over our heart as it swelled with pride, knowing that we were part of something larger than ourselves. We were Americans! Our National Anthem is a celebration, not of political parties or policies, but of, “We the people.”

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is not America. Our senators and congressmen are not America. Our mayors and our alderman are not America. At best they are temporary servants of America’s citizens.

Look in the mirror, look at your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, the people in the check-out line at the grocery store. Look at the people you agree with and those with whom you have differences. You are looking at America, you are looking at, “We the people.”

The last line of each stanza of our National Anthem, ends with this, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Today across America, we saw a rash of professional football players deciding not to stand for our National Anthem. Living in the “land of the free,” they have that right. But as a very small part of America, one little guy in “We the people,” I’m offended. Disagree with policy all you want, if you see injustice, work to see that corrected. That is your right and obligation as an American. But burn our flag or kneel through our anthem, then you have insulted your neighbors, your co-workers and even yourself as a part of “We the people.”

Let me tell you about the “sappers.”

During the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-day, the sappers job after they landed was to charge up the hill to find the land mines and clear a path for their comrades.

Tom Brokaw, in his book, The Greatest Generation, recorded the stories of some veterans who came back years later to visit Omaha Beach, this is what they said.

” … that hillside was loaded with mines, and a unit of sappers had gone first, to find where the mines were. A number of those guys were lying on the hillside, their legs shattered by the explosions. They’d shot themselves up with morphine and they were telling where it was safe to step. They were about twenty-five yards apart, our guys, calmly telling us how to get up the hill. They were human markers.”

They described the scene as calmly as if they were remembering an egg-toss at a Sunday social back home. It was an instructive moment for me, one of many, and so characteristic. The war stories come reluctantly and they almost never reflect directly on the bravery of the storyteller. Almost always he or she is singling out someone else for praise.

2,500 American soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice that day. 2,500 brave individuals would never see their families and loved ones again. They would never again have the privilege of standing when they heard the line, “Oh, say can you see.” They charged up the beach, knowing the odds were not in their favor. They sacrificed themselves for their country and comrades. They knew they were part of something greater than themselves. They knew they were part of “We the people,” … it never occurred to them to “take a knee.”


In case you’ve forgotten, this is the preamble to our constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.