I tuned in to the national observance of the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., last evening. It proved to be a perfect experience for me.

It was the songs of the branches of the military, sung by the Armed Forces Chorus, that did it. I haven’t heard those songs in a long time. They brought me back to 1944 when I was graduating from grammar school, right in the middle of World War II. Sister Mary Anna taught them to us and we sang them at our graduation. I have them all memorized.

You have to admit that the Marine one is the most powerful: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The Marines call it a “hymn,” not a “song.” It was written by an Italian immigrant, Francesco Maria Scala.

What did I hear as I listened to them? They are songs of youth and strength and courage. They are proud songs. They are very American songs. They go right along with John Adams’ “bonfires and illuminations.” They evoke America.

If you’re out to celebrate America – and July Fourth is the only holiday on which we do – then these are the songs that will do it. Well, they did it for me. They are going through my head yet: “From the halls of Montezuma …” (Look up Francesco Maria Scala.)

The Rev. Joseph McKenna


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