Baltimoreans take pride in anthem and the 'O' [Letter]

September 22, 2014

Born and raised here, a true "Son of Baltimore," I have witnessed the evolution and controversy of the "O!" sung during "The Star-Spangled Banner" since its origins in the cheap seats of Memorial Stadium some 30-plus years ago ("Stop desecrating the anthem," Sept. 18). To those who accuse us of disrespect and desecration, I have the following to say.

My family, like many, came to the docks of Locust Point poor and hopeful and never left — the immigrant working-class backbone of a young country. The working-class of Baltimore have always been our greatest heritage. We helped build America, define her character and win her wars from the very first page of our national story.

The beer-drinking, blue-collar denizens of Section 34 in bygone days were no different than the men who stood shoulder to shoulder with our soldiers in 1814 fighting and dying to defend our city and the freedom our country represented. We routed the world's most powerful military with little more than guts and determination. It was the Wild Bill Hagy's of the American Revolution who ran down the very street where I now live to join our militia in meeting the British incursion force at Port Covington on that famous rainy night of the bombardment, who made their stand in the muddy fields surrounding Dundalk and who met those terrible ships and defied their awesome power.

Being a part of this stream of history that continues to write itself is an amazing privilege, but it's not for everybody. Baltimore is a city that is much maligned and dismissed by mainstream America. A grim place of intractable racial issues, corruption, drugs and violence. The true sons and daughters of Baltimore — of any race or economic strata — care little about this but our hearts fill to bursting whenever we hear our song performed, especially here in the city for whom it was written. For this and this alone, that fierce and often unexplainable and irrational sense of pride that we feel for Baltimore, that is why we shout "O!" It's ours. We own it and it won't be copied anywhere else. Good Baltimoreans carry it forth and convey to the world: "I am Baltimore and I am proud!"

Its not a gimmick. Its not a "Terrible Towel" or a "Cheesehead" hat. Its a physical expression of the love we have for America and all things Baltimore, our home. Its not disrespect in any form. It is, instead, a mad, mad, mad respect that won't always be understood by outsiders. Its no more disrespectful than accompanying fireworks, jet fly-overs or the artistic re-interpretations of every musician and vocalist that ever stood and delivered our great National Anthem.

To all the "O!" critics out there, I invite you to stand beside me in a crowd of 70,000 of our closest friends and feel the power of that one word and if you still think that we sully America with our rowdy and disobedient pride, then I'll just have to say, "Its a Baltimore thing, my friend, you wouldn't understand."

Mike Peters, Baltimore

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