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The Star-Spangled Banner
Defence of Fort M'Henry broadside.jpg
One of two surviving copies of the 1814 broadside printing of the "Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem that later became the lyrics of the national anthem of the United States.
National anthem of  United States
Lyrics Francis Scott Key, 1814
Music John Stafford Smith, 1780
Adopted 1931
Music sample
The Star-Spangled Banner (Instrumental)

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort McHenry",[1] a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.

The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "The Anacreontic Song" (or "To Anacreon in Heaven"), set to various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one and a half octaves, it is known for being difficult to sing. Although the song has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today, with the fourth ("O thus be it ever when free men shall stand...") added on more formal occasions. In the fourth stanza, Key urged the adoption of "In God is our Trust" as the national motto ("And this be our motto: In God is our Trust").[2] The United States adopted the motto "In God We Trust" by law in 1956.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889 and the President in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of American officialdom. "Hail, Columbia" served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", whose melody was derived from the British national anthem,[3] also served as a de facto anthem before the adoption of "The Star-Spangled Banner."[4] Following the War of 1812 and subsequent American wars, other songs would emerge to compete for popularity at public events, among them "The Star-Spangled Banner."



Early history of the lyrics

An artist's rendering of the battle at Fort McHenry.
The 15-star, 15-stripe "Star Spangled Banner Flag" which inspired the poem.

On September 3, 1814, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner, set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners, one of which was Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro, and a friend of Key’s who had been captured in his home. Beanes was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and then-Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner, while they discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.

Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise, and later back on the HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense.

During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller "storm flag" continued to fly, but once the shell and Congreve rocket[5] barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered, and the larger flag had been raised.

Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort. This flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag and is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a treasure of the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored in 1914 by Amelia Fowler, and again in 1998 as part of an ongoing conservation program.

Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on 16 September, he and Skinner were released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and he entitled it "Defence of Fort McHenry".

Interestingly, much of the idea of the poem and even some of the wording is arguably derived from an earlier song by Key, also set to the tune of The Anacreontic Song. The song, known as "When the Warrior Returns",[6] is said to have been written in honor of Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart on their return from the First Barbary War.

According to the historian Robin Blackburn, the words "the hireling and slave" allude to the fact that the British attackers had many ex-slaves in their ranks, who had been promised liberty and demanded to be placed in the battle line "where they might expect to meet their former masters".[7]

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson. Nicholson saw that the words fit the popular melody "The Anacreontic Song", of English composer John Stafford Smith, which was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London. Nicholson took the poem to a printer in Baltimore, who anonymously printed broadside copies of it – the song’s first known printing – on September 17; of these, two known copies survive.

Francis Scott Key's original manuscript copy of his "Star-Spangled Banner" poem. It is now on display at the Maryland Historical Society.

On September 20, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song, with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven". The song quickly became popular, with seventeen newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printing it. Soon after, Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together under the title "The Star-Spangled Banner", although it was originally called "Defence of Fort McHenry". The song’s popularity increased, and its first public performance took place in October, when Baltimore actor Ferdinand Durang sang it at Captain McCauley’s tavern.

Commemorative plaque in Washington, D.C. marking the site at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue where "The Star-Spangled Banner" was first publicly sung

The song gained popularity throughout the nineteenth century and bands played it during public events, such as July 4 celebrations. On July 27, 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed General Order #374, making "The Star-Spangled Banner" the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at military and other appropriate occasions. Although the playing of the song two years later during the seventh-inning stretch of the 1918 World Series is often noted as the first instance that the anthem was played at a baseball game, evidence shows that the "Star-Spangled Banner" was performed as early as 1897 at opening day ceremonies in Philadelphia and then more regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York City beginning in 1898. However, the tradition of performing the national anthem before every baseball game began in World War II.[8] Today, the anthem is performed before the beginning of all MLS, NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL games (with at least one American team playing), as well as in a pre-race ceremony portion of every NASCAR race.

On November 3, 1929, Robert Ripley drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon, Ripley's Believe it or Not!, saying "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem".[9] In 1931, John Philip Sousa published his opinion in favor, stating that "it is the spirit of the music that inspires" as much as it is Key’s "soul-stirring" words. By a law signed on March 3, 1931 by President Herbert Hoover, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was adopted as the official national anthem of the United States.

Modern history

O'er the ramparts we watch in a 1945 United States Army Air Forces poster

The first "pop" performance of the anthem heard by mainstream America was by Puerto Rican singer and guitarist Jose Feliciano. He shocked some people in the crowd at Tiger Stadium in Detroit and some Americans when he strummed a slow, bluesy rendition of the national anthem before game five of the 1968 World Series between Detroit and St. Louis. This rendition started contemporary "Star-Spangled Banner" controversies. The response from many in Vietnam-era America was generally negative, given that 1968 was a tumultuous year for the United States. Despite the controversy, Feliciano's performance opened the door for the countless interpretations of the "Star-Spangled Banner" heard today.[10] One week after Feliciano's performance, the anthem was in the news again when American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos lifted controversial raised-fists at the 1968 Olympics while the "Star-Spangled Banner" played at a medal ceremony.

Marvin Gaye gave a soul-influenced performance at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game and Whitney Houston gave a soulful rendition before Super Bowl XXV in 1991, which was released as a single that charted at number 20 in 1991 and number 6 in 2001 (the only times the anthem has been on the Billboard Hot 100). Another famous instrumental interpretation is Jimi Hendrix's version which was a set-list staple from autumn 1968 until his death in September 1970. Incorporating sonic effects to emphasize the "rockets' red glare", and "bombs bursting in air", it became a late-1960s emblem. Roseanne Barr gave a controversial performance of the anthem at a baseball game on July 25, 1990. The comedienne belted out a screechy rendition of the song, and afterward she attempted a gesture of ball players by spitting and grabbing her crotch as if adjusting a protective cup. The song and the closing routine offended many in the audience and, later, across the country after it was played on television.[citation needed]

In March 2005, a government-sponsored program, the National Anthem Project, was launched after a Harris Interactive poll showed many adults knew neither the lyrics nor the history of the anthem.[11]


Cover of sheet music for "The Star-Spangled Banner", transcribed for piano by Ch. Voss, Philadelphia: G. Andre & Co., 1862

Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the glass of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory 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![12]

Additional Civil War period lyrics

In indignation over the start of the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes[13] added a fifth stanza to the song in 1861 which appeared in songbooks of the era.[14]

When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

Alternative lyrics

In a version hand-written by Francis Scott Key in 1840, the third line reads "Whose bright stars and broad stripes, through the clouds of the fight,".[15]


United States Code, 36 U.S.C. § 301, states that during a rendition of the national anthem, when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart; Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present and not in uniform may render the military salute; men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; 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. The national anthem is also played on U.S. military installations at the beginning of the duty day (0600) and at the end of duty day (1700). Military law requires all vehicles on the installation to stop when the song is played and all individuals outside to stand at attention and face the direction of the music and either salute, in uniform, or place the right hand over the heart, if out of uniform. Recently enacted law in 2008 allows military veterans to salute out of uniform, as well.[16][17]

However, this statutory suggestion does not have any penalty associated with violations. 36 U.S.C. § 301 Moreover, generations of students who were introduced to flag etiquette prior to its enactment in 1998 were taught that the hand over the heart gesture was exclusively for the Pledge of Allegiance which has had the statutory requirement for much longer.(4 U.S.C. § 4)[citation needed] This behavioral requirement for the national anthem is subject to the same First Amendment controversies that surround the Pledge.[18] For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not required to stand for or sing the national anthem.[19][20][21]


As a result of immigration to the United States, the lyrics of the song were translated into other languages. In 1861, it was translated into German.[22] It has since been translated into Hebrew[23] and Yiddish by Jewish immigrants,[24] Spanish (with one version popularized during pro-immigration rallies in 2006),[1] French by Acadians of Louisiana,[25] Samoan,[26] and Irish.[27] The third verse of the anthem has also been translated into Latin.[28] With regard to the indigenous languages of North America, there are versions in Navajo[29][30][31] and Cherokee.[32]


Crowd performing the US national anthem before a baseball game in Coors Field.

The song is notoriously difficult for nonprofessionals to sing, because of its wide range – an octave and a half. Garrison Keillor has frequently campaigned for the performance of the anthem in the original key, G major, which can be managed by most average singers without difficulty[citation needed][33][citation needed] (it is usually played in A-flat or B-flat).[citation needed] Humorist Richard Armour referred to the song's difficulty in his book It All Started With Columbus.

In an attempt to take Baltimore, the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner", and when, by the dawn's early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror

Professional and amateur singers have been known to forget the words, which is one reason the song is so often pre-recorded and lip-synced.[citation needed] Other times the issue is avoided by having the performer(s) play the anthem instrumentally instead of singing it. Such situations have been lampooned in film (see below). The pre-recording of the anthem has become standard practice at some ballparks, such as Boston's Fenway Park, according to the SABR publication The Fenway Project.[34] At the Changing of the Guard on September 12, 2001 at Buckingham Palace in London, the Band of the Coldstream Guards played the Star Spangled Banner as a show of support for her ally who had been attacked by terrorists the day before.[35]

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is traditionally played at the beginning of public sports events and orchestral concerts in the United States, as well as other public gatherings. Performances at particularly large events are often ended with a military flypast. The NHL requires arenas in both the U.S. and Canada to perform both the Canadian and American national anthems at games that involve teams from both countries.[36]

Musical references

The tune has been referenced in many other musical compositions.

  • The city of Philadelphia commissioned Richard Wagner to write a piece in honor of the centenary of U.S. independence. His American Centennial March uses a recurring allusion to "The Star-Spangled Banner" in its main theme.
  • The nineteenth-century American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk incorporated both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Yankee Doodle" in his piano composition The Union.
  • Giacomo Puccini controversially used the opening phrases of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as a theme for the character of Pinkerton in his opera Madama Butterfly.
  • The last of Leopold Godowsky's set of thirty piano pieces titled Triakontameron is "Requiem (1914–1918): Epilogue", which concludes with a full-blown romantic arrangement of the anthem.
  • The paraphrase of the first stanza is used in the score of American Panorama (1933) by Daniele Amfitheatrof.
  • The first verse of the George M. Cohan song, "The Yankee Doodle Boy", contains the line, "O, say, can you see / Anything about a Yankee that's a phony?"
  • The title tune of the 1960s musical Hair contains the lines (sung to the usual tune) "O, say, can you see / my eyes? If you can / then my hair's too short!"
  • In the musical 1776 the song "Cool, Cool Considerate Men" starts and ends with the beginning bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and begins with the lyrics "Oh say do you see what I see?"
  • The song is used in the multi-media performance piece "Home of the Brave" by artist/musician Laurie Anderson.
  • In Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, Assassins (1991), the song Another National Anthem takes the first three notes of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and reverses them to form the opening vocal motif of the choruses.
  • E. E. Bagley's composition "National Emblem" incorporates a portion of "The Star-Spangled Banner".
  • Leon Russell's cover version of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" features him singing the first stanza in the style of "The Star-Spangled Banner".
  • Supertramp sax player John Helliwell played the first part of the song as part of his improvisational saxophone solo during "Fool's Overture" on the band's Even in the Quietest Moments... tour in 1977.
  • Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix played his own iconic version of the song as part of his performance set list from August 16, 1968, to August 31, 1970. The most famous performance of his version, which included creating the simulated sounds of war (explosions, gunfire, etc.) on his guitar, was at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Hendrix's version has been covered by many famous musical groups of all styles, such as Pearl Jam and the Kronos Quartet.
  • Bruce Kulick, former Kiss guitarist, performs the song on Kiss' Alive III album
  • The rock group Boston performs an instrumental version of the anthem on their greatest hits album titled "Star Spangled Banner/4th of July Reprise".
  • The American metal band Iced Earth performed an instrumental version as the opening track on their 2004 album "The Glorious Burden".
  • Another heavy metal instrumental version was performed by Eric Burdon & The New Animals in 2000 on their 2001 live album "Official Live Bootleg 2000".
  • British composer Gordon Jacob quoted the final strains of the anthem in his 1954 wind ensemble composition, "Flag of Stars".
  • In the Brazilian rock-band Engenheiros do Hawaii's rendition of "Era Um Garoto Que Como Eu Amava Os Beatles E Os Rolling Stones", there's a guitar solo with many National Anthem parts, that starts with "The Star-Spangled Banner".
  • Punk band Propagandhi's USA-critical song "Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes" includes the lyrics "basked in the rocket's blinding red glare, the bombs bursting in air, one nation indivisible".
  • Whitney Houston's recording of the song was released as a commercial single, reaching the Top 20 on the US Hot 100 making her the only act to turn the national anthem into a pop hit.

References in film, television, literature

Several films have their titles taken from the song lyrics. These include two films entitled Dawn's Early Light (2000[37] and 2005);[38] two made-for-TV features entitled By Dawn's Early Light (1990[39] and 2000);[40] two films entitled So Proudly We Hail (1943[41] and 1990);[42] a feature (1977)[43] and a short (2005)[44] entitled Twilight's Last Gleaming; and four films entitled Home of the Brave (1949,[45] 1986,[46] 2004[47] and 2006).[48]

Ken Burns' documentary Baseball consists of 9 "innings", each of which begins with a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner that is historically appropriate for the period covered in that episode of the series.

The 2002 movie The Sum of All Fears featured the second half of the fourth verse being sung instead of the first at a major football game.

In All Grown Up! (2003) Tommy Pickles, Dil Pickles, Angelica Pickles, Kimi Finster, Chuckie Finster, Lil DeVille, Phil DeVille and Susie Carmichael sang it at the football game.

In The Naked Gun, main character Frank Drebin butchers the anthem before a baseball game while posing as fictitious opera singer Enrico Palazzo. Portions of his version include "And the glare! Bunch of the air!"

In Eagle Eye (2008) the trigger to detonate an explosive near the US president is set to activate when the high F on a trumpet, corresponding to the word "free," is played.

Alternative Anthems

Various other patriotic songs have been considered unofficial national anthems for the U.S.


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  1. ^ "Star-Spangled Banner and the War of 1812". Encyclopedia Smithsonian. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  2. ^ 50th Anniversary of Our National Motto, "In God We Trust," 2006, Proclamation of George W. Bush, White House
  3. ^ "My country 'tis of thee [Song Collection"]. The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  4. ^ Snyder, Lois Leo (1990). Encyclopedia of Nationalism. Paragon House. p. 13. ISBN 1557781672. 
  5. ^ British Rockets at the US National Parks Service, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Accessed February 2008.
  6. ^ "When the Warrior Returns". 
  7. ^ Blackburn, Robin (1988). The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. pp. 288–290. 
  8. ^ "Musical traditions in sports". 
  9. ^ Bizarre Magazine Robert L. Ripley. Published February 2006.
  10. ^ Jose Feliciano Personal account about the anthem performance
  11. ^ Harris Interactive poll on "The Star-Spangled Banner"
  12. ^ Francis Scott Key, The Star Spangled Banner (lyrics), 1814, MENC: The National Association for Music Education National Anthem Project, accessed September 14, 2007
  13. ^ Butterworth, Hezekiah; Brown, Theron (1906), The Story of the Hymns and Tunes, George H. Doran Co., p. 335,'s+smile%22&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Library of Congress image
  16. ^ A website dedicated to the Flag of the United States of America - United States Code
  17. ^ U.S. Code
  18. ^ The Circle School v. Phillips, 270 F. Supp. 2d 616, 622 (E.D. Pa. 2003).
  19. ^ Retrieved 2009-12-13.
  20. ^ Botting, Gary Norman Arthur (1993). Fundamental freedoms and Jehovah's Witnesses. University of Calgary Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781895176063. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  21. ^ Love, Charles (2005). 20 Questions Jehovah's Witnesses Cannot Answer. Xulon Press. p. 23. ISBN 9781597815079.'s+witness&lr=&cd=13#v=onepage&q=national%20anthem%20jehovah's%20witness&f=false. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  22. ^ Das Star-Spangled Banner, US Library of Congress, accessed September 14, 2007
  23. ^ [[:he:המנון ארצות הבריתHebrew|Wikipedia - Hebrew Version]]
  24. ^ Abraham Asen, The Star Spangled Banner in Yiddish, 1943, Joe Fishstein Collection of Yiddish Poetry, McGill University Digital Collections Programme, accessed September 14, 2007
  25. ^ David Émile Marcantel, La Bannière Étoilée on Musique Acadienne, accessed September 14, 2007
  26. ^ The Samoa News reporting of a Samoan version
  27. ^ An Bhratach Gheal-Réaltach - Irish version
  28. ^ Christopher M. Brunelle, Third Verse in Latin, 1999
  29. ^ Gallup Independent, 25 March 2005
  30. ^ New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services
  31. ^ Schedule for the Presidential Inauguration 2007, Navajo Nation Government
  32. ^ Cherokee Phoenix, Accessed 2009-08-15
  33. ^ The city council of Solana Beach, California unanimously passed a resolution calling for G major to be the anthem's official key "when audiences are asked to sing it" on June 15, 2004.
  34. ^ "The Fenway Project - Part One". Red Sox Connection. May 2004. 
  35. ^ "Palace Plays Spanish Anthem". BBC News. March 14, 2004. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  36. ^ Allen, Kevin (2003-03-23). "NHL Seeks to Stop Booing For a Song". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  37. ^ Dawn's Early Light (2000) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  38. ^ Dawn's Early Light (2005) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  39. ^ Dawn's Early Light TV (1990) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  40. ^ Dawn's Early Light TV (2000) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  41. ^ So Proudly We Hail (1943) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  42. ^ So Proudly We Hail (1990) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  43. ^ Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  44. ^ Twilight's Last Gleaming (2005) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007
  45. ^ Home of the Brave (1949) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed December 5, 2007
  46. ^ Home of the Brave (1986) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed December 5, 2007
  47. ^ Home of the Brave (2004) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed December 5, 2007
  48. ^ Home of the Brave (2006) on the Internet Movie Database, accessed September 14, 2007

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