Memorial Songs
by Cullen James

Memorial Day is a very important holiday to me and my family. I am a third-generation military member. My father retired Air Force. One grandfather served shipboard in WWII, and was close to Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed the port. His ship was, in fact, supposed to have been there, but was delayed getting back. My other grandfather was also in the Navy but was an aircraft mechanic.

Putting aside petty political differences, we all recognize that the freedoms we enjoy in the United States were secured for us by brave men and women who died in our nation’s service. It is, in that light, perhaps a bit trite to fire up the grill and enjoy some time with our loved ones. But, knowing military folks the way I do, I think those who’ve gone before us wouldn’t want us to do much else.

Regardless of the context the author intended when he wrote it, the following George Orwell quote is true to the heart of Memorial Day: We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

In that vein, and because my column is guitar/music centric, I ask the following: What are your favorite heroic/military songs? Why? What’s your story?

Here’s mine:

At my first duty station, the base S-2 (security officer) was this old, grizzled civilian guy. He was a retired first sergeant or sergeant major. He had done his time and was living out his days in the relative relaxation that a small Army post on a small semi-tropical Pacific island can afford.

CanonSalute.jpgEveryone on post knew the security guy. He was well-liked and loved by many of the civilian and local national employees who’d worked with him for nearly, and in some cases, over a decade.

He passed away about halfway through my tour there. Only did then those of us who knew him in passing learn just how awesome this guy was. The old man was a highly decorated Special Forces soldier (a “green beret”) and Vietnam Vet. There was a memorial service held at the post chapel. Being one of the two journalists on our installation, I covered the ceremony.

There was the normal military memorial service kind of stuff – 21-gun salute (7 guns, 3 shots each), a prayer from the chaplain and some kind words from someone who knew him well. What was a bit out of the norm for this ceremony was that they played some music toward the end of the ceremony. They played the Ballad of the Green Beret, an a cappella version that was very touching. In John Wayne’s The Green Berets the song is like a war anthem. It urges you to action. Here, it was moving and full of emotion. The singers didn’t really change the way the song was sung, just the lack of music and environment cast the song in a new light.

The Ballad of the Green Berets

Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret.

Silver Wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret.

Trained to live off nature's land
Trained in combat, hand to hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage picked from the Green Beret.

Silver Wings upon their chest
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret.

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her his last request.

Put Silver Wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret.

So, again, got any stories?

Because I'm All About the Guitar Archives


And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Pogues version.


I'm hoping to have a piper play "Scotland The Brave" vs "The Air Force Hymm" at the end of my retirement ceremony next week.


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