In the United States, the last Monday in May is traditionally observed as one of the nation’s most solemn and hallowed holidays known as Memorial Day. In honor of the observance of Memorial Day weekend, Grammy-nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker and her four children – Laura Jane, Hannah Jean, Sarah Noelle, and Matthew Dallin – known musically as Family Four, have created a beautiful new music video of their rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As the family harmoniously performs, a person can sense each of their love, sincere devotion, and gratitude for being blessed to be Americans. Their rendition is befitting the honor and respect given to the men and women who valiantly gave their last full measure of devotion by sacrificing their lives in service of their country.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the somber day of remembrance originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. From the annals of history, we learn that Memorial Day had its beginnings as early as 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. The historical records reveal that as the Civil War ended, thousands of Union soldiers, held as prisoners of war, were huddled into hastily assembled camps in Charleston, South Carolina. The records indicate that at one camp, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, conditions were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure, and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.
Three weeks after the Confederate surrender, on 1 May 1865, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves, accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. A parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children was held, and the group marched, sang hymns, gave readings, and distributed flowers around the newly consecrated burial site, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
As we watch the video and listen to the familiar melody, reflecting on the freedoms that we so dearly cherish – freedoms paid for by valiant men and women who stood or presently stand a vigilant watch by day and by night, by land, air, and sea – let us turn our focus and attention to the words of the little-known fifth stanza. The words of that stanza, penned by poet Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861 — 47 years after Francis Scott Key’s original verses — when the U.S. was in the grip of civil war, are as follows:
When our land is illum’d with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down, with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchain’d who our birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.
Latter-day Saint Musicians salutes all the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces to ensure that we may always remain, the land of the free, and the home of the brave. We also pay tribute and honor to the families of these American heroes. As we celebrate this Memorial Day and remember those who sacrifice to defend our great nation, may we be ever mindful that freedom is not free.