He was only 5 years old when he came to America from Russia. This immigrant would become the well-known composer and lyricist Irving Berlin.
In 1918, when he was 30 years old, he became an American citizen. Shortly after that, he was inducted into the Army.
While stationed at Camp Upton in Long Island, N.Y., he wrote a song for a musical production that was to raise money for the Army and improve morale. However, this song was thought to be too solemn for that musical. The composer put it away in a trunk of rejected compositions.
Twenty years later, Kate Smith was the top singer in our nation. Every Thursday evening, her beautiful contralto voice was broadcast by CBS on the "Kate Smith Hour."
Her manager, Ted Collins, was looking for a patriotic song that she would sing to honor the 20th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. He asked Irving Berlin to write a new patriotic song. Not satisfied with what he was writing, Berlin remembered the rejected song he had written earlier. That song would be more appropriate to the times as a second world war threatened Europe.
It was retrieved from the trunk, slightly altered, and, in only three days, it became a song of peace, "God Bless America."
"God Bless America" was sung by Smith during the radio broadcast from the New York World's Fair on Nov. 10, 1938. Millions of American listeners were captivated by this beautiful musical tribute to our great country. From the earnings, Berlin established the "God Bless America Fund" for charity, and the royalties were contributed to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
Berlin lived to be 101 years old. His first song published in 1907 was followed by more than 1,000 songs. In 1992, Berlin's three daughters presented the Irving Berlin Collection of their father's personal papers and the records of the Irving Berlin Music Corp. to the Library of Congress. His music and especially "God Bless America" continues to be a tribute to the American spirit.
On Sept. 11, 2001, and the days following, the words "God Bless America" were on the lips of many Americans. The song was sung on the steps of the Capitol and at the seventh inning stretch of all Major League Baseball games. The words appeared on homes, cars and buildings from coast to coast. Our hearts were roused for love of our country.
The introduction of this song is especially meaningful for us today as storm clouds across the sea come even closer to our own land:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
As we reflect on these words, let us not forget the early days of our country. America was built on the efforts of our founding fathers to make us "one nation under God." We have been greatly blessed but we need to cherish and protect the values on which our country was founded. Let us not substitute material values for God's blessing.
God bless America
Land that I love
Stand beside her
And guide her
Through the night with a light from above
From the mountains
To the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home.
Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.