Written by Niraj Chokshi
Toward the end of his Independence Day speech Thursday, President Donald Trump appeared to rewrite history.
“The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown,” he said. “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rocket’s red glare, it had nothing but victory.”
Notice anything? No, not the sudden jump from the Revolutionary War to a battle decades later. The part about the … airports: The era Trump was referring to predated human flight by nearly a century, so there were no airports to seize.
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s Trump himself, speaking about 15 minutes earlier: “On a cold December morning in 1903, a miracle occurred over the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when two bicycle makers from Ohio defied gravity with a 12-horsepower engine, wings made of cotton and just a few dollars in their pockets,” he said, alluding to the first successful airplane flight.
Trump’s remarks prompted a lot of head-scratching and jokes online. But it also got us thinking about history, airports and the battle that inspired the national anthem.
Let’s begin with the basics: What is an airport?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, an airport is defined in the law as “any area of land or water used or intended for landing or takeoff of aircraft.” Today, airports are home to expensive candy, among other things. And, yes, armed forces do sometimes take them over.
Did airports exist in the late 1700s or early 1800s?
Then what was Trump talking about?
It isn’t exactly clear what Trump meant when he suggested that the army “manned the air” and “took over the airports” two centuries ago.
On Friday, Trump said that rain during his address knocked out his teleprompter, which might have helped to explain the inaccuracy had he not in the same breath suggested that the outage had no effect on the speech.
“I guess the rain knocked out the teleprompter, but I knew the speech very well,” he said. “So I was able to do it without a teleprompter. But the teleprompter went out.”
The internet reacted calmly to this, I assume?
Characteristically, the reaction online was, uh, unrestrained.
Many of the jokes on Twitter coalesced around the #RevolutionaryWarAirports hashtag (or similarly worded ones), with users reimagining historical moments with planes present.
Julie Roginsky wrote on Twitter: “Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight flight delay of Paul Revere.” #RevolutionaryWarAirport”
A joke was even edited into the Wikipedia entry for the famous 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze, which described that river crossing as “the first move in a surprise attack” against German forces at Philadelphia International Airport.
“Washington and his men captured runways 27 Left, 27 Right, parts of Terminal F including the food court, baggage claim, and some bathrooms,” it read.
What is the oldedst airport?
A genuine question!
According to the National Park Service, College Park Airport in Maryland, where Wilbur Wright began training military pilots in 1909, is “the world’s oldest continually operating airport.” On its website, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum also describes the facility as “the oldest airport in the world.”
What is a rampart? Can it be rammed?
A rampart is a physical barrier or wall. The New York State Military Museum defines it as a “broad embankment of earth which surrounded a fortified place.” By that definition, a rampart could conceivably be “rammed,” as Trump said.
That said, the attack on Fort McHenry, which Trump mentioned and which inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was waged largely by sea.
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