National symbol is celebrated at Fort McHenry

SALUTING THE FLAG

June 15, 1993|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Staff Writer

Summer shorts and baseball caps were the favored attire, and at least in people's hearts the colors were red, white and blue. Flag Day was celebrated last night at Fort McHenry.

More than 3,000 people sang the national anthem, then joined in the 14th annual "Pause for the Pledge" by reciting the 31-word oath as four flag-toting parachutists dropped from a helicopter.

With the crowd singing, the 50-star flag was lowered and replaced by a 15-star replica of the giant banner that survived the British bombardment of the fort in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key's poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

It was adopted officially as the national anthem on March 3, 1931.

"There's not a lot of things in this world to feel good about, but we can feel good about loving our country, which this is all about," said 22-year-old Teri Dorsey of Towson, who graduated last month from Goucher College, majoring in historic preservation.

She is now working as a museum aide at the fort.

"It's a celebration of our country, and not just the flag," said Chuck Johnson, a 35-year-old optician from Reisterstown, attending the event with his wife and three daughters, ages 3 to 12. "Celebrating a country also means giving something to those who gave something to this country to protect the freedom."

And there was Milt Price who, as much as anyone, could speak to the concept of protecting freedom. A World War II prisoner of war, he was one of three ex-POWS present last night, he said.

The 73-year-old Mr. Price, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. retiree, said, "I don't think there's anyone who appreciates the flag more than ex-prisoners of war. For an ex-POW, everyday is a Flag Day."

Also attending were the grandson and great-grandson of Francis Bellamy, a Baptist preacher who first penned the Pledge of Allegiance in its original 23-word version in 1892, for the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America.

(The original wording was, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.")

"This kind of program is always well-received," said the grandson, 64-year-old Peter Bellamy, a sales representative from Lancaster, Pa. "I am always looking forward to it."

There was no way of telling -- at the fort -- how many others across the nation might have been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the appointed hour of 7 p.m.

BBut the "Pause" was a national event, an official part of the Flag Day celebration endorsed by congressional action and the signature of President Reagan in 1985.

As a symbol of that national scope, the flags of all 50 states were carried in a procession preceding the Pledge by members of five Boy Scout troops from Baltimore city and county.

Louis V. Koerber, 65, a Baltimore paint company owner who originated the idea for the "Pause for the Pledge" and who now heads its sponsoring National Flag Day Foundation, saw the recitation as "a concept of national unity, and this concept transcends age, race, religion, geographic and political differences. It's something for all Americans."

"I think it's a commitment," he added. "You can see a flag and enjoy it waving in the wind. But when you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you are making a commitment verbally. It gives you a warm feeling inside."

A group of Maryland government officials led last night's recitation while Baltimore-born opera singer Melvin J. Lowery, 45, gave the national anthem his full energy to lead the singing.

Mr. Lowery, who performs with the Baltimore and New York City opera companies, said he has taken part in the Flag Day program at Fort McHenry for 13 years. "The national anthem is special," he said. "To do it justice, I try to sing it as best I can."

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