Thursday, July 2, 2015

#TBT July 4th Edition: 'O Say Can You See?'

Editor’s note: It’s “Throwback Thursday” and the last day before a long Independence Day holiday weekend, so we’re going back to our archives to re-post Editor-in-Chief Sandi Soendker’s excellent 2012 piece about the actual Star-Spangled Banner. You can see the flag on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., or in an interactive web-display here.

We Americans are deeply attached to our star spangled flag. We fly it over homes, cemeteries, places of business, stadiums, airports, racetracks, battleships, everywhere. Here and all over the world where American people have lived and died, you’ll see the stars and stripes. It’s our unique signature.

The original 'Star-Spangled Banner' (Photo by Smithsonian Institution)

We’ve planted it on Iwo Jima, the North Pole, Mount Everest, even the moon. Our flag is everywhere. We wear caps, pins, tee shirts, we tattoo it on our bodies, we paint it on our face, we decorate cakes with its image and wrap murals on our 18-wheelers.

I myself, have got a real deep thing about my flag … have had ever since I was about 12.

Early this morning, I was looking out my window at the American flag that we hung off the eave of my front porch for the Fourth of July. It was barely daylight and the first rays of the sun were just about to hit my house.

The flag, which had been still in the semi-darkness, suddenly fluttered in the breeze.

It instantly took me back to something that happened when I was in the sixth grade and my teacher told us a story that simply smacked me upside the head. I’ve never looked at the American flag – or heard the national anthem – in the same way.

Previous to her story, I was like a lot of kids. I didn’t know much about our flag except that it had a star for every state. I knew how to hold my hand over my heart and recite the pledge. We did it in school every day. But it was pretty much just words, no more than a dry recitation. I knew every word to the national anthem but the meaning of those words was pretty much lost on a kid.

Fortunately for me, my sixth-grade teacher’s style of teaching included being a superb storyteller.

She told us about this guy who was a lawyer who lived during the War of 1812 when our country went head on against the British. The war wasn’t going well and Washington was in shambles. The lawyer was supposed negotiate for the release of a prisoner so he boarded a British ship in Baltimore harbor. While aboard this ship, he overheard the Brits planning to attack the city of Baltimore the next day. He ended up in the middle of a major battle, one that turned out to be key to winning the war.

The city was being defended by the garrison at Fort McHenry. Because the lawyer had heard the battle plans, the British took him prisoner until after the battle was over.

When my teacher described the how fierce the battle was, us kids were getting pretty interested. She talked about the rockets pounding Fort McHenry all day and night. Historians say the British naval fleet unleashed more than 100 tons of shells, bombs and rockets on the fort – one every minute. My teacher described the lawyer, stuck on the British ship, not knowing if the city would fall or not. She described him, pacing, anxious, his eyes peeled on the dark shoreline. By that time, Mrs. Patrick had the full attention of the class.

She was passionate when she explained to us that this was a little known battle, but nonetheless, it came down to our scrappy little Navy fighting off on the war ships of the British Empire.

Through the dark and the smoke and bombshells, the lawyer could hear but couldn’t see much. He couldn’t know if the city or ultimately, the nation, was safe.

Then, in the early morning light, there it was – a giant red, white and blue flag flying high over the fort. The commander of the garrison had ordered it hoisted so everyone would know they had held off the invaders.

That lawyer was Francis Scott Key and he wrote some emotional verses about that battle on the back of a letter he was writing. It was later put to music and of course, has become our national anthem.

I remember that story and how my teacher told it, as if it were yesterday and every kid in my class had a lump in their throat at the end. To us, suddenly, the words to that “Star Spangled Banner” all made sense.

I never hear that song without experiencing that same feeling.

And the flag that flew that morning over Fort McHenry? We STILL have it. The commander of the post kept it for years and passed it on down to his family members. It is now in possession of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. It’s one of our most sacred national treasures.

It hung in the entry hall in the Smithsonian until 1999. It’s now been repaired and preserved and currently the proud focal point of a brand new exhibit. How fitting is that for the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812?

I wish Francis Scott Key could know that 200 years after he scribbled down those verses, we still have that old flag. And that yes, the star spangled banner does still wave … well, you know the rest of the words.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

‘She looked like a nice girl, and she needed some help’

We got a heads up from our friends at Truckers Against Trafficking last week about how a trucker helped get a juvenile runaway back where she belonged. We talked with the trucker, who’s also an OOIDA member, and with the local law enforcement agency, who had some good advice to pass on. As always, if you witness someone or something pertaining to domestic sex trafficking, Make The Call. Save Lives.

OOIDA Member Bill Underwood was doing his logbook and pre-trip inspection early Thursday morning, June 25, at a truck stop in Jackson, Miss., when a young woman approached him and asked for a ride to Louisiana.

“She had no ID with her, no bags, she told me her car was being towed and I did see a tow truck with a car behind it, so that part of the story I could believe a little bit,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “But I was not going to leave this young lady in the middle of this damn truck stop parking lot.”

An owner/operator and owner of Underwood Farms in Alta Vista, Kan., Underwood is 72 years old and the father of eight children, including three daughters. He said the girl told him she was trying to get to her family at Lake Charles in southern Louisiana, but Underwood’s route only took him across the northern portion of the state. He agreed to take her as far as the TA Truck Stop at Greenwood, La., at Exit 5 off I-20.

“I know the people at that TA,” he said. “They’re trustworthy people, and they’d be able to help her. If everything was OK, we’d be able to get her a bus ticket to Lake Charles or wherever she wants to go.”

Once he got to the TA, Underwood said he talked to the general manager of the truck stop, who agreed to call the police to see if they could assist with her safe return home. Once the cops arrived, they soon found out that young woman was, in fact, a girl only 14 years old.

Her age was not the only thing she’d lied about, either. She also lied about her missing ID and her car being towed. In reality, she had absconded from a youth detention center in Mississippi, about five miles from where she first met Underwood. He said instead of going to Lake Charles, the police took the girl back to the juvenile facility.

“The chief of police came over to me and shook my hand and told me he was very happy that this young lady was able to get into a truck that no one was going to harm her, and get her back to where she needed to be,” he said. “She’s not a violent criminal, she just had some stuff she needed to work through.”

Greenwood Police Chief Shane Gibson said he could not provide details about how the girl managed to leave the facility, but he did confirm Underwood’s account.

Gibson also said that if a driver finds himself in a position like Underwood’s, the most important thing to do is call the authorities.

“It’s very important,” he said. “I’d suggest stopping and calling the authorities immediately, as opposed to picking them up and taking them several hours down the road.”

For his part, Underwood says he would’ve called police immediately if the situation had been different, or if he thought the girl had been in immediate danger. The only distress she seemed to be under was being upset her car was being towed, but that was “a fabrication.”

“Other than that, she was clean-cut, she did not look like she’d been harmed, which if she did, I would’ve called police right there,” he said. “She looked like a nice girl, and she needed some help.

“I have children of my own, and I’ve heard so many stories, and I will not and have not in the 53 years I’ve been on the road, turn my back on an individual that needed help, particularly a young lady,” he said. “There’s too many kidnappings and too much stuff that happens on the highway. I would not, and I could not turn my back on this girl.”