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Armed Forces Day: Music of the Military

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Armed Forces Day: Music of the Military

President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country. On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days. The single day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense.


In a speech announcing the formation of the day, President Truman "praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas" and said, "it is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace."


According to a New York Times article published on May 17, 1952: "This is the day on which we have the welcome opportunity to pay special tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces ... to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world. Armed Forces Day won't be a matter of parades and receptions for a good many of them. They will all be in line of duty and some of them may give their lives in that duty."


Armed Forces Day this year is Saturday May 21st.  To celebrate, let’s have a look at the official songs of the United States Armed Forces.


“The Marines’ Hymn” is one of the most readily recognized songs in the world today and is the oldest of the service songs. The music to the hymn originated in the 1859 comic opera “Geneviéve de Brabant” composed by the French composer Jacques Offenbach. The work was expanded in 1867 to include the song “Couplets des Deux Hommes d’Armes” and is the musical source of “The Marines’ Hymn”. The author of the words to the hymn is unknown. The first two lines of the first verse were taken from words inscribed on the Colors of the Corps. After the war with the Barbary pirates in 1805 the Colors were inscribed with the words “To the Shores of Tripoli.” After Marines participated in the capture of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec (also known as the Halls of Montezuma) in 1847, the words on the Colors were changed to read “From the shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma.” The unknown author of the first verse of the hymn reversed this order to read:


From the Halls of Montezuma

To the shores of Tripoli;

We fight our country’s battles

On the land as on the sea;

First to fight for right and freedom

And to keep our honor clean;

We are proud to claim the title

Of United States Marine.


“Anchors Aweigh” is the fight song for the US Navel Academy and was written in 1906 by Lt. Charles Zimmerman with lyrics by Midshipman Alfred Miles. Another midshipman, Royal Lovell, penned the final stanza in 1926. The original first stanza was composed as a football march to be played at the Army Navy Football game. Even today, the song offers a bittersweet "farewell to college joys". The lyrics end by "wishing you a happy voyage home". To "weigh anchor" is to bring it aboard a vessel in preparation for departure. The phrase "anchor's aweigh" is a report that the anchor is clear of the sea bottom and, therefore, the ship is officially underway. “Anchors Aweigh” was adopted as the official song of the U.S. Navy. This is the second verse which is the one most widely sung.


Anchors Aweigh, my boys,

Anchors Aweigh.

Farewell to foreign shores,

We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.

Through our last night ashore,

Drink to the foam,

Until we meet once more.

Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.


The U.S Army’s song was originally written by Field Artillery First Lieutenant, later Brigadier General Edmund L. Gruber, while stationed in the Philippines in 1908 as the "Caisson Song."  The original lyrics reflect routine activities in a horse-drawn field artillery battery. The song was transformed into a march by John Philip Sousa in 1917 and renamed "The Field Artillery Song." It was adopted in 1956 as the official song of the Army and retitled, "The Army Goes Rolling Along".


Over hill, over dale

As we hit the dusty trail,

And those caissons go rolling along.

In and out, hear them shout,

Counter march and right about,

And those caissons go rolling along.

Refrain: Then it’s hi! hi! hee!

In the field artillery,

Shout out your numbers loud and strong,

For where e’er you go,

You will always know

That those caissons go rolling along.


The U.S. Air Force did not exist in 1938. But, that year Liberty Magazine sponsored a contest for an official song for the Army Air Corps. The magazine received 757 entries. A group of Army Air Corps wives selected the entry from Robert Crawford, "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder." After World War II the Army Air Corps evolved into the U.S. Air Force and in 1947 this became the "Air Force Song".


Off we go into the wild blue yonder,

Climbing high into the sun;

Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,

At ‘em boys, Give ‘er the gun! (Give ‘er the gun now!)

Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,

Off with one helluva roar!

We live in fame or go down in flame. (Shout!)

Nothing’ll stop the Army Air Corps!


“Semper Paratus”, latin for “Always Ready”, is the motto of the United States Coast Guard, along with their marching song "Semper Paratus." Captain Francis S. Van Boskerck, USCG wrote the original words and music for Semper Paratus in 1927.


From Aztec Shore to Arctic Zone,

To Europe and Far East,

The Flag is carried by our ships

In times of war and peace;

And never have we struck it yet

In spite of foemen's might,

Who cheered our crews and cheered again

For showing how to fight.

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Heartland Sings, Inc. is a nonprofit vocal music production company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Founded in 1997 by Maestro Robert Nance, Heartland Sings creates a variety of vocal music productions and educational outreach programs.

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