Ilove this country. I love being an American. My earliest memory of the Star-Spangled Banner was the flag that flew from the flagpole in the schoolyard across the street from my childhood home in the Bronx where we played baseball and basketball. Accompanying that memory was the incredible experience of rising to our feet at the start of a ball game in Yankee Stadium to sing our national anthem along with my hero, Joe DiMaggio, and all those thousands of fans. I remember pledging my allegiance to the flag each morning in school. It was a simpler time, after a world war, when those broad stripes and bright stars stood for our homeland and the freedom and hope it brought to every American.
I have always loved things that are worn, like an old plaid shirt that has been patched and mended or an old pickup truck that is a little dented and the paint a little faded. That patina is evidence of a history of work and a kind of honesty that to me is very American. It was in the late 1990s when I first heard the Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project. I was personally inspired to have Polo Ralph Lauren help save our greatest American treasure—the original Star-Spangled Banner. Understanding that this almost two-hundred-year-old-hand-sewn piece of art was rapidly deteriorating but could be saved for future generations, we made a commitment. I particularly love that the preservation effort, applying cutting-edge scientific techniques and the knowledge of the best conservators, has not artificially changed the original flag. When you visit it in its new home at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, you experience some of the same emotion that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The ragged edges, patches, and holes are still there, and although its stripes are tattered and its stars are faded, it has endured—“our flag was,” and is, “still there.”
On September 11, 2001, three firefighters climbed on top of a mountain of the twisted remains of the World Trade Center to raise our flag. In the days and weeks that followed, images of the Stars and Stripes were seen everywhere—on the streets of New York, all across America and all across the world. It was a symbol, like the Star-Spangled Banner flying over Fort McHenry, like the U.S. Marines hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima, that our flag and our nation and the memory of all those lost that day are still there.
I am a product of the American dream, and the flag is its symbol. Its preservation and conservation is imperative so that those who succeed us will understand our nation’s heritage and the ideals on which the United States was founded. The Star-Spangled Banner was an inspiration to Francis Scott Key, it’s been an inspiration for me, and now it will be an inspiration for future generations.