"Francis Scott Key," shouted Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., as he rushed to the House floor. "In the harbor. The flag still standing."
"Oh, say can you see ABC?" mocked Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio.
Across the Capitol Plaza, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., had an important lunch to attend and so wouldn't sing along. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas., said, "I can't sing," but Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., offered a spirited version unique to fans of the Baltimore Orioles who emphasize the "Oh!" at the start of baseball game renditions.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sang the first stanzas so robustly we weren't about to challenge his knowledge of the rest. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham was gentlemanly when we put him on the spot, saying, "I am like 61 percent of Americans. If I had to get up and recite the national anthem, I would fail miserably."
We came upon a woman dressed as a fish -- she was lobbying for clean water -- and she sang it with just a minor flub. A group of chiropractors whirled around and sang it backward. Get it? Backward.
Finally, we came upon a quintet of soldiers out on a training run carrying rucksacks on their backs and dressed in T-shirts, shorts and combat boots. We offered to sing the song with them, but they declined any help when we asked them to sing the national anthem. One soldier confidently said, "I don't think that will be a problem."
The five soldiers lined up in a semicircle and harmoniously provided the best rendition of the day of the difficult-to-sing song. The singers, it turns out, were ringers of a sort. These particular soldiers were members of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard, stationed at Fort Myer, Va., the unit that was originally made up of Gen. George Washington's handpicked personal troops. And the five troops we happened upon comprised the unit's Color Guard. They routinely carry Old Glory at White House ceremonies, state funerals and at Arlington National Cemetery.
Whether you salute the Stars and Stripes with your hand over your heart or by singing in English or Spanish or any other language, "The Star-Spangled Banner," it seems, is in safe hands.
Sarah Baker contributed to this story.