Friday Five: Veterans Day

Juli Thanki | November 11th, 2011

In honor of Veterans Day, some of the Engine 145 crew wrote about their own favorite soldier songs. Here they are, in alphabetical order by staff member. To all who have served: thank you.

5. Glen Campbell – “Galveston”

The song, and brilliant hit record made of it, are about the specific, tangible, actual soldier, in a situation that is made utterly real in a few lines, with remarkable singing, and groundbreaking orchestration for a country record. It’s just about everything country music can be and say for the soldier himself.  It’s not about a cause, or phony posturing (it’s even adult enough to admit the soldier is afraid) or a rallying cry for either of those.  Glen Campbell’s long been an outspoken Republican–but one, by the way, who also recorded Buffy Sainte-Marie’s pacifist-leaning protest song “Universal Solider”.  It’s not  even necessarily about a specific war–though it wasn’t and couldn’t have been taken as being about anything but Vietnam when it came out (Campbell said he was thinking Spanish-American War himself, whatever Jimmy Webb, the composer, may have had in mind).  There has never been any better way to honor actual soldiers than to bother to get over ourselves and recall, consider and empathize with their unvarnished realities and sacrifices. This is the way country music can do that. –Barry Mazor


4. Johnny Cash – “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”

This is a heartbreaking tale of a man who is forever memorialized in one of the most iconic photos ever taken and the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington. Ira Hayes was a Native American and one of the Marines who took part in the second flag-raising on Iwo Jima. This song, written by Peter La Farge, tells Hayes’ story: when he came home, he was “celebrated through the land.” But not long after, he succumbed to alcoholism and passed away in 1955: “He died drunk one morning/Along the land he fought to save/Two inches of water in a lonely ditch/Was a grave for Ira Hayes.” Juli Thanki


3. Garth Brooks – “Belleau Wood”

Part Christmas song and part historic story-song, “Belleau Wood” beautifully contrasts the benevolence and horror of war. The setting is a Christmas night along the front lines of France in World War I. For a moment, both sides come together to celebrate a commonality of faith before “the battlefield where heaven stood was blown to hell again.” Very few songs have ever shown both a level of humanity and the brutality of warfare as well as this one. –Ken Morton, Jr.


2. Steve Earle & The Pogues – “Johnny Come Lately”

Steve Earle has written a flurry of topical songs in the post Iraq War era, but on this track from Copperhead Road, he goes back a generation or two to sing about a soldier who came to England to fight in World War II and came home with a wife. And if you’re going to sing about a group of soldiers the British criticized as “overpaid, oversexed and over here,” who better to back you than The Pogues, one of the best and most raucous rock & roll bands around –Sam Gazdziak


1. Here’s where you come in. Comment below (be sure to leave a valid email address) with your favorite soldier song and why you find it meaningful and be entered to win a copy of country singer/former Army Ranger Keni Thomas’ book Get It On!: What It Means to Lead the Way. Two winners will be announced on Monday, November 15 at noon Eastern.

1 Ping

  1. [...] to the winners of our Keni Thomas book giveaway: BLL and Dr. No. Check your [...]
  1. Rick
    November 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I’d have to go with “Soldier’s Last Letter” as recorded by both Ernest Tubb and later Merle Haggard, who placed it within the context of Vietnam War.

    And let’s not forget about the hapless soldier John who received the “Dear John Letter” from a then 19 year old Jeannie Shepard.

    Since we are on the subject of soldiers, I just have to plug my favorite WWII patriotic song “Smoke On The Water” from Red Foley. Thank goodness our country wasn’t bound by the utterly destructive stupidity of political correctness back then or we’d be speaking German, Japanese, and later Russian as our national language these days…

  2. Dr. No
    November 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    “I Wonder If They Think of Me” by the Hag. You think that it’s about a guy in jail but then you’re smacked in the face toward the end of the song when it’s revealed that he’s actually a POW in Vietnam.

    Classic country song swerve and a powerful one at that.

  3. Michael A.
    November 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    I’m sure it will get mentioned again in the comments, but my first thought today was to play the Dixie Chicks’ take on Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier”.

    Supporting troops without having to support war.

    (No need to enter me in the contest, please. Thank you.)

  4. Thomas
    November 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    …john michael montgomery’s “letters from home” sounds familiar to anyone who’s ever served as a soldier – just the way it is with these letters from home.

  5. nm
    November 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    My grandmother used to sing “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier,” a pop song from her First World War girlhood. (Lyrics at .) Her son and brothers were all soldiers in the Second World War, and she hated that. It’s not my favorite war-related song (100-year-old pop isn’t really my thing), but I think that the point of view of the families back home needs to be part of the story, so I’m going to nominate Loretta Lynn’s “Dear Uncle Sam.”

    “Johnny Come Lately” always bothers the nerdy part of me because there is no biological way that the grandchild of a British war bride from the ’40s would have been old enough to fight in the US army in Vietnam.

  6. bob
    November 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Favorites of the songs mentioned are “Galveston”, “Belleau Wood” (which Garth wrote with Joe Henry) and “Letters from Home”.

    One of the favorite songs of the troops in Vietnam of itself had nothing to do with war. It was “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by the Animals.

  7. Paul W DENNIS
    November 12, 2011 at 4:35 am

    I’ve always liked “Private Lee” by the Willis Brothers, but the David Ball hit from a decade ago “Riding With Private Malone” also is excellent

  8. Jon
    November 12, 2011 at 10:49 am

    “A Purple Heart,” originally written about the Korean War and recorded by Jim & Jesse, then repurposed for Viet Nam by Red Allen & The Kentuckians in the mid-60s.

    Rick’s comment about “Smoke On The Water” is kind of ironic, as it was his fellow “conservatives” of the day who were the strongest isolationists and pro-Nazis, seeing Hitler as a bulwark against the Red Menace. Plus ca change…

  9. luckyoldsun
    November 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    A lot of Americans flip-flopped all over the place when it came to WWII–after Hitler attacked Russia.
    Tha Almanac Singers–Seeger, Guthrie– went from calling FDR a warmonger to backing the U.S. war effort whole-heartedly.

  10. BLL
    November 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Joe Henry is such a wordsmith; Belleau Wood is among his best. My Dad was a Ranger and loved the song.

  11. plain_jo
    November 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    My two favs are American Soldier – Toby Keith & Travelin’Soldier – Dixie Chicks

  12. luckyoldsun
    November 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Maybe Toby and the DC’s can appear together on a double-bill and combine on a medley of both songs–You’ll be in heaven.

Tagged In This Article

// // // // // //

Current Discussion

  • Paige: Oh damn. :( I never commented here and I haven't been listening to any music at all since Thanksgiving (it …
  • Dave W.: Just read the news here. Will miss E145 very much - love this site. All the best to you Juli …
  • Leeann Ward: Oh, dang! This is real. Farewell to the most generous, informative, quality, intelligent, consistent, ethical country music blog! You …
  • bll: Thanks Juli for all the great articles and information; you'll be missed by me and I suss several others. Best …
  • Both Kinds of Music: I hope people appreciate the irony that one of the best "Americana" albums is titled Metamodern Sounds in COUNTRY Music.
  • Barry Mazor: I would not rule out that possibility..There's a different set of voters involved..
  • Dana M: Does anyone else think that Brandy Clark actually has a good chance of winning since this isn't a country awards …
  • Juli Thanki: UPDATE: Brandy Clark got a Best New Artist nom. BEST AMERICANA ALBUM: Rosanne Cash -- The River & The Thread John Hiatt -- Terms …
  • luckyoldsun: Glenn Campbell is great and I'd love to see him get an award, but the words of that song may …
  • Casey Penn: Juli, it was an honor to write for you here on You're good at what you do, and The …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • walkerandthetexasdangers3
  • deadmanstown
  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton