My fellow Americans:
Today we celebrate Flag Day, the birthday of our Stars and Stripes. As we think back over the history of our nation's flag, we remember that the story of its early years was often one of hardship and trials, sometimes a fight for simple survival.
Such is the story behind our Star-Spangled Banner. It was 2 years into the War of 1812, and America seemed to be teetering on the edge of defeat. The British had already taken our Capital and burned the White House. Baltimore was the next target in a grand design to divide our forces and crush this newly independent nation of upstart colonies. All that stood between the British and Baltimore were the guns of Fort McHenry, blocking their entry into Baltimore Harbor.
The British bombardment lasted for 25 hours. Through the dark hours of the night, the rockets fired and the bombs exploded. And a young American patriot named Key, held captive aboard a British ship, watched anxiously for some proof, some sign, that liberty would prevail. You can imagine his joy when the next morning, in the dawn's early light, he looked out and saw the banner still flying—a little tattered and torn, but still flying proudly above the ramparts. Fort McHenry and the brave men manning it had withstood the assault. Baltimore was saved. The United States, this great experiment in human freedom, as George Washington described it, would endure.
Thinking back to those times, one realizes that our democracy is so strong because it was forged in the fires of adversity. In those dark days of the war, it must have been easy to give in to despair. But our forefathers were motivated by a cause beyond themselves. From the harsh winter of Valley Forge to the blazing night above Fort McHenry, those patriot soldiers were sustained by the ideals of human freedom. Through the hardships and the setbacks, they kept their eyes on that ideal and purpose, just as through the smoke of battle they kept a lookout for the flag. For with the birth of our nation, the cause of human freedom had become forever tied to that flag and its survival.
As the American Republic grew and prospered and new stars were added to the flag, the ideal of freedom grew and prospered. From the rolling hills of Kentucky to the shores of California to the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon, our pioneers carried our flag before them, a symbol of the indomitable spirit of a free people. And let us never forget that in honoring our flag, we honor the American men and women who have courageously fought and died for it over the last 200 years, patriots who set an ideal above any consideration of self. Our flag flies free today because of their sacrifice.
And I hope you all will join Nancy and me and millions of other Americans at 7 o'clock this evening, eastern daylight time, when we pause a few minutes to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Though separated by many miles, we will be together in our thoughts. These anniversaries remind us that the great American experiment in freedom and democracy has really just begun. They remind us of the terrible hardships our forefathers willingly endured for their beliefs. And they challenge us to match that greatness of spirit in our own time, and I know we will. We are, after all, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
If we ask ourselves what has held our nation together, what has given it the strength to endure and the spirit to achieve, we find the answer in our families and those basic family values of work, hope, charity, faith, and love. So, it's appropriate that this year Father's Day falls on the same weekend as Flag Day, for in commemorating fatherhood, we're also expressing a basic truth about America. What does fatherhood mean today in America? I guess the same as it always has.
Fatherhood can sometimes be walking the floor at midnight with a baby that can't sleep. More likely, fatherhood is repairing a bicycle wheel for the umpteenth time, knowing that it won't last the afternoon. Fatherhood is guiding a youth through the wilderness of adolescence toward adulthood. Fatherhood is holding tight when all seems to be falling apart; and it's letting go when it is time to part. Fatherhood is long hours at the blast furnace or in the fields, behind the wheel or in front of a computer screen, working a 12-hour shift or doing a 6-month tour of duty. It's giving one's all, from the break of day to its end, on the job, in the house, but most of all in the heart.
Now, if you are thinking, "Look who's talking—he's a father himself." Well, that's right, but on today I think we could all remember—this weekend, at least—that every father is also a son. So, on this day for fathers, we, too, say thanks to America's dads—for the labor and legacy of our families and our freedoms.
Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.