Anthem’s 200th: 6 Most Memorable Moments in U.S. Flag History

The ‘Star Spangled Banner’ through the years.

This weekend marks the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort McHenry, the battle which inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.”

In honor of that historic day, we’ve compiled a list of some of the memorable moments the flag was lifted and shown reverence.

1. The Battle at Fort McHenry (9/13-9/14 1814) 

Our flag has had some great moments but perhaps the greatest would have been the one that inspired the national anthem.

After witnessing Fort McHenry being attacked by British warships the night of Sept.13, 1814, from a neighboring ship, Washington lawyer Francis Scott Key woke up the next morning to see that the flag was “still there,” intact and waving proudly. He was so moved by the image that he quickly penned the lyrics to the song which we still sing today.

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

To hear what the song would’ve heard like back when it was first written, listen to a recording with the anthem played on original instruments, courtesy of The Smithsonian.

2. Marines Raise Flag at Iwo Jima (Feb. 23, 1945) 

In one of the fiercest battles of World War II, the battle for Iwo Jima, American forces successfully captured the island of Iwo Jima off the coast of Japan. During the battle, marines and navy corpsman raised a flag on Mt. Suribachi after it was captured. But the flag was too small to be seen from surrounding islands. So a second, larger flag was ordered to be placed atop the mountain. Five Marines and one Navy corpsman managed to carry the flag up the mountain without being attacked by the nearby Japanese forces, and raised the U.S. flag on top of Mt. Suribachi.

AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image which became the basis for a sculpture at the Marine Corps War Memorial at Arlington National Ceremony in Washington, D.C. It quickly become one of the most iconic and patriotic images in U.S. history.

3. Chicago Cubs’ Rick Monday Rescues Flag (1976) 

It was April 25, 1976, and one of the most memorable days in the history of baseball. Two men ran onto the field mid-game at Dodgers Stadium, carrying a flag, knelt down on the grass and started to light it. Rick Monday, playing center-field for the Chicago Cubs, saw what the men were doing and bolted towards them, snatching the flag away before it could be lit, to the cheers of the crowd.

The former Marine recalled the righteous anger he felt when he saw the men trying to burn the flag. He told The Washington Post, “Whatever their protest was about, what they were attempting to do to the flag, which represents a lot of rights and freedoms we all have--was wrong for a lot of reasons. Not only does it desecrate the flag but it also desecrates the efforts and the lives that have been laid down to protect those rights and freedoms for all of us.”

Rick Monday was honored for his effort and still proudly owns the tattered flag today, as he recounted to USA Today in 2006.

4. U.S. Places Flag On the Moon (July 21, 1969) 

Like JFK’s assassination and the attacks on the World Trade Center, the moon landing became one of those days in history that everyone who was alive at the time remembers like it was yesterday.

The Apollo 11 mission was groundbreaking, making the U.S. the first country to have men on the moon. 45 years ago, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to take steps on the moon, and Buzz Aldrin followed. Armstrong planted the flag on the moon, and the two men saluted it. The moment was broadcast on national television to the amazement of millions of fixated Americans.

The image has been copied and re-purposed in myriad ways – most famously by a young MTV.


5. “Miracle On Ice” (1980) 

It was the midst of the Cold War, and the U.S. hockey team was playing the U.S.S.R. Olympic team in 1980 Winter Olympics, held at Lake Placid, N.Y.

The U.S. was clearly an underdog in this game, not to mention the sport itself. The team was made up of young amateurs, while the Soviets were the top dog to beat. The U.S.S.R had won the gold medal in 6 of the previous seven Olympic games.  It was a tight game, with the U.S. barely leading, 10 minutes to the end. The Soviets made several attempts to score a goal but were blocked every time. As the last few seconds remained, the teams scrambled for the puck and ABC Sportscaster Al Michaels counted down while the crowd chanted, “U.S.A.!” and waved American flags. Then Michaels uttered the famous line, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” he shouted as the clock ran out and the U.S. underdogs managed to win against the long-running champions. The team cheered, raised the American flag proudly, and spontaneously burst into singing, “God Bless America.”


6. NY Fire Fighters Raise the Flag At Ground Zero (9/11/01) 

It’s an image that hearkens back to the iconic Iwo Jima moment. After the al-Quaeda terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center where two towers fell, killing over 2,000 Americans, three fire fighters from the New York City Fire Department raised the U.S. flag at Ground Zero in solemn remembrance and solidarity of the values and freedom Americans cherish. The image made the cover of several magazines and newspapers and the flag in question even made the subject of a CNN documentary.

— Kristine Marsh is Staff Writer for MRC Culture at the Media Research Center. Follow Kristine Marsh on Twitter.