What does the national anthem mean to you? That is what Howard County residents Dan and Mary Esmond want you to think about the next time you hear “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Dan Esmond, a former Secret Service agent who worked during the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, drove home one day in 2007, those memories engrained in his mind, and told his wife Mary, “I know what I want to do with my life. I want to start a foundation dedicated to the national anthem.”
The result was the National Anthem Celebration Foundation (NAC), launched in 2009 to “Teach the Story and Celebrate the Song.”
“I love our national anthem,” said Esmond. “It tells such a great story of patriotism and honoring those who defend that flag and what it represents.”
“Dan can’t even talk about the national anthem without it bringing tears to his eyes; we both have an admiration and appreciation of what the song represents,” said Mary Esmond, a former Baltimore Sun vice-president and the nonprofit’s executive director.
In March of this year, the foundation spearheaded a first-ever event in Annapolis, with assistance from two of its new board members, Howard County State Sens. Allan Kittleman and Jim Robey, a Republican and Democrat.
“It’s a great endeavor built on love of our country,” said Kittleman.
With several news helicopters hovering above the armored transport vehicle and protection from armed security and several law enforcement agencies, the NAC, in cooperation with the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS), owners of the original 196-year-old manuscript, put on display for the first time ever outside of Baltimore the four verses of Francis Scott Key’s poem.
March 3 of this year marked the 80th anniversary of Congress adopting “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the country’s official national anthem. “We were really surprised that so many people at the event were not aware that such an important part of our American history is housed in Baltimore at the Maryland Historical Society,” said Mary Esmond. “But that event was just the beginning.
“‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is a cornerstone of our shared American history, which continues to inspire a nation to believe in itself. We have to continue to teach our children and have them understand what has been secured for them,” she opined.
Their daughters, Caroline, 13, and Georgia, 11, know all four verses. “People don’t even know there are four verses to the song,” said Georgia, who recently travelled to New York City to audition to sing the anthem for the U.S. Tennis Association. The Esmonds and their foundation are preparing to change that.
More to Come
This September, the manuscript will have its 197th birthday, and the NAC will launch its newly designed interactive web site, at www.osaycanyousee.org, to raise awareness of and provide information about the actual events and history associated with the national song.
They are also planning on more trips of the original manuscript in cooperation with the MdHS and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s established War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. These trips and displays of the manuscript and other events will be on a grand level; however, due to security concerns those events remain closely guarded, something Esmond is good at.
“We are all about inclusion and cooperation. We believe in helping those we partner with meet their goals as well as establish[ing] ourselves as a foundation that is doing things that no one else has thought of.”
The NAC is already making plans for other events and programs, not just in Maryland, but nationally. “We are always looking for a way to make learning about the anthem fun, to educate not only kids but their parents, and we plan on doing that across the entire country. Our new web site will be a great start,” said Esmond.
He explained his motivation using the words of Marylander Francis Scott Key, who he thinks said it best: “Men who inherit an estate generally prize it and enjoy it less than the ancestor who earned it; and we, who inherit freedom, may learn to value it less than the men who won it.” Recently, a vice-president of a local bank saw their efforts and has teamed up with the NAC to bring in supporters.
Esmond concluded, “We are so lucky to live in Howard County. There is a lot of wealth here, but more importantly, there are so many people that are looking for a way to have an impact and to leave their mark. We think that this is the perfect way for them to get involved, show their passion for patriotism and love of the song and help secure our shared history for generations.”