SAN DIEGO – A solemn ceremony was held Friday to honor the life of a war hero whose patriotism runs in the family.
Funeral services were held at Miramar National Cemetery for Lt. George E. Key, who served in World War II and the Korean War and was the great-great-grandson of American national anthem writer Francis Scott Key. Key, a San Clemente resident who died last December, stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, fought at the Battle of the Bulge and later was called back to serve in Korea, daughter Georgia Smith said.
In Key’s later years, he was involved in the community, including organizing San Clemente’s Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day services and speaking to groups about the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“He was very much a patriot, but his heritage from Francis Scott Key was so important to him,” Smith said. “It was a thread woven throughout his entire life and it caused him to be a stronger patriot than he otherwise would have been. And he was a father and a husband and a grandfather and a great grandfather. When he passed, he had six great-grandchildren as well.”
His great-great grandfather’s song — written in 1814 during the British siege of Fort McHenry — became the country’s official anthem in 1931 with a bill signed by President Herbert Hoover, according to the Library of Congress. It had been used in a similar capacity before that time and in the late 1800s was designated by the Secretary of the Navy as the song to be played at the raising of the flag.
In the more than 90 years since becoming the official anthem, it has been a staple at government functions, parades, prior to sporting events and for Olympic gold medalists, and as a common TV sign-off in the era before 24-hour programming.
Smith said her father, known by many as the Flag Man, spent much of his life “help(ing) people understand the importance of the flag and the national anthem and patriotism.”
“In today’s difficult, a bit polarized world, we should all reflect on and remember that at the end, we’re all Americans,” she said. “We love this country. We love what it stands for and that was my dad to his core.”
Jim Gularti, a dear friend of Key’s, said he had the opportunity to work with his friend on events in San Clemente as well as restoring flags and capturing used flags to properly put them to rest.
“George was a mentor,” Gularti said, “and he was an inspiration to me because one, his heritage as the grandson of Francis Scott Key and then also George’s spirit of keeping our anthem and our flag and our veterans in his heart and sharing that with everybody in San Clemente and Orange County that cared to listen.”
Gularti added, “I’m so honored to be here at Miramar putting George in his place with F-18s flying over him every day. I’m just so blessed to be here.”