"Oh! Say, Can You See . . ."


By DR. FRANK KINGDON, Educator and Author

Broadcast over Station WOR, New York City, July 4, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 654-655.

ALL over the world, American boys who were shooting firecrackers a few years ago, are suddenly men, and the fate of the world hangs on their manliness. They used to sing an anthem with us, remember? It begins, "Oh! say, can you see?" Well, America, what can you see? Can you see the young Americans who have died for their country? Sixteen thousand six hundred and ninety-six of them; count them as they march by: Eight thousand five hundred and thirty-three men of the army, six thousand two hundred and ninety-three men of the Navy, one thousand six hundred and eighty-eight men of the Marines, one hundred and eighty-two men of the Coast Guard. Can you see? These are the vanguard, and as I see their shadowy parade, their heads are high for they have given the "last full measure of devotion," and I hear a voice saying, "Let us here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."

OH! SAY, CAN YOU SEE? Can you see the men in the South Pacific, the loaded barges, the quick scramble on to the beach, the stealthy creeping through the jungle, the stumbling of the wounded, the hardening of the muscles in the faces of the men who go forward leaving their fallen comrades to the care of those who will come after? They are winning victories for us, those fighting men, in the places with the strange names—Rendova, Munda, Viru, and Salamaua, but can you see them?

OH! SAY, CAN YOU SEE those other men on the other islands—the men in Hawaii, ready at a moment's notice to meet any threat on the land, on the sea, in the air—the men in the North Pacific islands that run out from Alaska toward Japan and Tokio—the men in the islands of the Arctic Iceland and Greenland, learning the patience of the white snow and the hardness of the unmelting ice—the men in all the islands of the Atlantic, the outposts of our shores and the gateways to Panama? These and their brothers who guard our states from Maine to Washington are making it safe for us to sleep at night, but can you see them?

OH! SAY, CAN YOU SEE the men in North Africa and Britain, keeping their guns oiled, learning new fighting skills against the hour when word will come to embark from Sicily for the greatest military adventure of history, the invasion of the Continent? Those men in Africa havepassed their first ordeal of fire in the ancient Atlas Mountains—they have known the bitterness of retreat, the determination of recovery, and the sweet fruit of victory, and now their faces are to the North. Those men in Britain have looked upon the rubble of cities stricken from the sky, and upon people who found their ancient valor again in the hour that seemed disaster, and now their faces are toward the East.

OH! SAY, CAN YOU SEE the men who sail the great waters? They are on all oceans, keeping unceasing rendezvous with danger that may strike from the skies or the waves or the waters below them. They know their places, on the bridge or in the galley, by their guns or at the masthead, in the control tower or among the engines, and every man knows his duty, meshes with every other man's so that the whole ship counts on him being in his place, doing what is his to do. They are out there—the great ships, the swift ships, the submarines—clearing sea lanes, guarding convoys, harassing the enemy, ready to engage the opponent's fleet, carrying their assaults to the harbors of the foe, but can you see them?

OH! SAY, CAN YOU SEE the men with wings, the flyers who go out to sweep the skies, who control their huge birds with a touch of the finger, and who must be ready with the extra second of swiftness when the birds with other markings come at them, spitting fire? They are bombing the centers of industry and transportation, flying over convoys to detect the lethal shadows in the waters, discovering and photographing the enemy's movements, battling his planes that come to destroy our men and our positions. These men have written a new triumph in our history and daily are adding new chapters to their record, but can you see them?

When we turn from the young and the valiant, and look within our own land, what can you see? Some things good—millions of homes adjusting themselves to all the war demands—millions of workers doing their work and counting it their contribution to victory, thousands of factories at full speed to make goods their nation needs, most Americans asking no more than to do what they can to hasten triumph; but also, and alas, little men playing petty politics —prisoners of greed serving their own selfishness, trading in black markets, plotting to avoid the disciplines the hour

calls us to accept—and, with deep sorrow, let us say it, some sowing hatred and division to make communities reap the ugly harvest of riot and blood. OH! SAY, my fellow American, what can you see?—in your own heart?

There is another question in our anthem, "OH! SAY, DOES THAT STAR SPANGLED BANNER YET AVE?" over the graves of those who have died? "YES"!

—the men of the South Pacific answer, "YES"!—the men of the islands answer, "YES"!—the men of North Africa and in Britain answer, "YES"!—the men of the ships at sea answer, "YES"!—the men who fly the planes answer, "YES"!—our pledge to them can be no other—"YES"! WE WILL KEEP THE FLAG FLYING OVER A LAND WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!