What do you do if the national anthem is played in public?

By Dick Cole, Department of Virginia
The 9th District American Legion Band plays patriotic music on April 14 at Moorhead Post 21.

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. — I was sitting in the waiting room of the Commonwealth Vein Center on Thursday, Dec. 28, having arrived several minutes before my noon appointment. I was catching up on emails on my cellphone when, the radio in the room began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Immediately, I stood and, there being no flag in the room, I faced the direction of the music and put my right hand over my heart.

As you might imagine, this got several stares from the other four patients waiting in the room for their appointment and from the receptionist. Not a single person stood and joined in honoring the anthem, nor did the receptionist stop talking to a woman at the desk whom she was assisting with scheduling a follow-up appointment.

As I was standing with my hand over my heart, the nurse opened the door to the waiting room and called my name. I didn’t respond as the anthem was playing. She called my name again and again I didn’t respond.

Finally, when the anthem ended, I spoke up to the nurse that I was there and followed her to the room for my procedure. I asked her what radio station was playing in the waiting room and explained I didn’t immediately respond as I was showing respect for the national anthem.

The nurse is an immigrant from Pakistan and, understandably, didn’t connect the relationship between the national anthem playing on the radio and showing proper courtesy.

She had to ask which radio station was turned on in the waiting room, and it turned out to be WKHK — a country station (“K95”) serving Colonial Heights and Petersburg. The station is one of many across the nation playing the anthem at noon daily.

The station is owned by SummitMedia — a broadcasting company based in Birmingham, Ala. The company operates stations in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Hawaii. During the COVID pandemic, SummitMedia joined other broadcasters like iHeartMedia in playing the anthem on their affiliated stations at noon.

I took the opportunity to educate the staff at the clinic that 36 U.S. Code § 301 requires “at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.”

I apologized for not having immediately responded to her when she called my name and explained why I didn’t speak up. I wish others would have followed my lead.

Mission BBQ, a restaurant chain with a location in Colonial Heights, asks its patrons to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” each day at noon.

Many members of the public complained about the practice on Reddit. Reddit user Buzz-Fledderjohn commented, “As an American, this makes me incredibly uncomfortable.”

Reddit user BlankBillboard offered, “I’ve been there at noon and sat there through the whole thing. I don’t care how many of the old men there were giving me dirty looks.”

Reddit user Itslolo52484 wrote, “I’d just sit and keep eating. You’re not obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. That includes standing for the anthem, and that’s what being an American is all about. I love this country, and it has a long way to go before we get things right. As a business owner, I think this could turn a lot of people off your business. I would never do anything to give any information about my religious or political affiliations as a business owner. I’d see green, not red and blue.”

The Rainbow Oaks Restaurant in Fallbrook, Calif., has its customers stand up every day to sing a rendition of the national anthem. Footage of the patriotic occasion was posted to TikTok by user @paulinappa_0, showing approximately a dozen people standing by the bar area as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played aloud on the TV screens.

Captioning the post, the TikToker wrote: “By far the most dangerous situation I’ve ever been in,” while using the hashtags #godblessamerica, #getout, #illegal and #whitepeoplethings.

In just the first week after its upload to TikTok in May 2023, the post has gone viral with more than 3.4 million views, 580,000 likes and 23,000 comments.

Like the content creator, many were not too impressed with the video. “Yeah, no, stopped doing it in school a while ago and the rage & hate I felt around me was insane,” one person wrote.

It’s sad that we are not doing a better job of teaching respect for our flag and our national anthem in America. Clearly patriotism is something to be avoided and is somehow creepy or nationalistic among today’s social-justice society.

As American Legion members, let us rededicate ourselves to educating our fellow citizens about when and how to render respect for our nation, its flag and our national anthem.

Dick Cole is the public relations officer for Colonial Heights Post 284 and is on the Department of Virginia Media and Communications Committee.