The date was September 27, 2001. It was a day that I will never forget for many reasons. The country was still in shock over the attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers in NYC just over two weeks prior. Americans were trying to grasp the reality of what had happened and how we could begin to get back to normal, knowing what had happened to many of our countrymen.
I had been asked to sing the National Anthem at O’Hare Airport that morning as President George W. Bush flew into our city to address our fellow Americans. After being transported to a staging area, it was not long before Air Force One rolled up the tarmac and delivered the Commander in Chief. As the President of the United States joined the assembled crowd, I had the privilege of representing this great country by singing the Star-Spangled Banner. A feeling of patriotism swept through me with each new phrase of the Anthem. As the words from the President rang out on that sunny morning, we listened to hear the hope that life would continue without tears and the fear of further attack.
It had been two weeks since the commercial airlines were in the air. Suddenly, over the words of a carefully crafted speech we were taken aback by the sight of the first airplane that any of us had seen since 9-11 taking off in the beautiful blue morning skies over Chicago. The plane carried the banner of Spirit Airlines, a sight that I could never forget. It symbolized that we needed to get back to the lives of freedom that our fathers and their fathers before them had fought and died for. The American Spirit was symbolized with the name on that one plane. A feeling of hope engulfed the crowd and we somehow knew that we could survive this test of our character.
A few hours later, it was time to walk out onto the infield of historic Wrigley Field where 12 games had been cancelled after the 9-11 attack. That night, it was time to play baseball again. Just as President Franklin Roosevelt had ordered that the National Pastime continue during WW II. As the lights came on, once again it was a moment where the gift that I had been given was being called upon to be put to use for a bigger purpose than just singing the National Anthem. Preceded by a rendition of America the Beautiful, I sang the Anthem as the representative surrogate voice for anyone whose heart had been touched by the developments of the recent past. It was a very emotional moment that required my full attention and a focus on the purpose of what was actually happening at that moment.
We hear far too many singers these days who crowd the spotlight with their own brand of interpretation and take away from the dignity of the moment with grandstanding gestures intended to call attention to themselves. In reflecting on what had transpired in that 12-hour time span, I clearly recognized that it was not your typical day. I also vividly remembered the advice that my Dad, a proud WW II veteran gave me many years earlier when he said, “Son, you should always sing the Anthem with respect and do it the way it’s supposed to be sung.” Thanks Dad. I only wish everyone who is handed the microphone would follow that same advice these days.