In the short story “No Refuge Could Save” by Isaac Asimov, the main character exposes a German spy by quizzing him on the third verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When the suspected spy reveals that he knows the lyrics to the third verse, he blew his own cover. Why? Because no American knows the third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Americans only know the first verse. Only a spy would know any of the lyrics beyond that.
The story is correct. Americans don’t know the second, third, or fourth verses of the National Anthem. By custom and tradition, we only ever sing the first verse. So the other verses have been all but forgotten.
Still, the last verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner” would repay a careful reading. It goes like this:
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
“Because no American knows the third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
The third? Given some of the renditions over the years, I’d say no one knows the first.
I still recall Whitney Houston’s spirited version for the Superbowl in 1991 and find that to be pretty much the gold standard:
Poor Whitney. What a loss.