Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Patriotic songs remembered during the upcoming holiday

Seems like when I was growing up we used to sing the patriotic songs more than we do now. Maybe that’s because we learned them in grammar school back in those days, and I’m not even sure that the schools have music nowadays, since my own kids have been out from underfoot for over a decade.  

Probably they do, and I’m just not hearing about it because I’m not in the schools at the right time, especially with the Fofa July being smack-dab in the middle of summer holidays. For five years I’ve taught a Creative Writing Anti-Violence Course twice a week in a public school, but we have sung very few songs during the course of that Course!

We do sing the patriotic songs in churches still, or at least at Calvary Baptist where I lead the music.

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There’s only a few like that in the hymn book: for instance, “America the Beautiful,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and “Star Spangled Banner.”  

Our National Anthem has two verses in our hymn book, although I have another book with four verses of that song.

Using the dates of Memorial Day, Fofa July, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving, we manage to work the patriotic songs in nearly a half-dozen times a year, which means singing those three listed above on a Sunday morning close to those holiday weekends.  

Oh, there are a few others, like “Lead On, Oh King Eternal,” used mainly around graduation, and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” also known as the Navy Hymn, although a better version has been written, with the second and third (of four, like the Bible says) verses replaced with tributes to the forces who fight on land and in the air.  

That one is called “The Armed Forces Hymn,” and ought to be in hymn books, just like “God Bless America” should be, but is not for I reckon copyright restrictions.

I realize that I’m leaving out one that you’re going to call and remind me of, called “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but it don’t get sung a lot Down Heah. Since that’un was used by Unca Billy Sherman’s troops in the War of Northern Aggression, and my Great-Granddaddy General Colquitt’s home place in Colquitt County Georgia was looted and burnt by Yankees, my Grandmother Ma’am (she kept a thimble on her middle finger to whack a kid who didn’t say “Yes, Ma’am”) refused to let her progeny even hum it, and walked out of her own daughter’s piano recital when that song was played. (That daughter later married a Yankee!  See?)

She did allow me to sing the tune occasionally, however, for parodies like, “John Brown’s Body Lies A-Mould’rin’ in the Grave,” or, “They Hung Abe Lincoln from a Sour Apple Tree.”  

Poor taste to teach a grandson, perhaps, but as I grew out of those melodies sung to me in the rocking chair, Ma’am later approved our schoolboy versions of, “Glory, glory, hallelujah, Teacher hit me with a ruler; socked her on the bean with a rotten tangerine, she won’t do that no more!”

Then later in my teens, the Scouting Classic: “I wear my pink pajamas in the summer when it’s hot, I wear my flannel nightie in the winter when it’s not; and sometimes in the springtime, and sometimes in the fall, I jump right in between the sheets with nothing on at all!  Glory, glory, etc, etc….”  

The “Pink Pajama Song” got a lot of mileage on high school bus trips, as I recall.

I sang and led patriotic songs at a nearby church in June for a Flag Day celebration, and they passed around a sheet with the words to several other great songs, including the recent hit, “God Bless the USA.”  

Oh, no, it’s not just the old songs we need to remember for patriotic holidays: there are many newer ones we can celebrate with.

We sailed into combat aboard the USS Okinawa, a helicopter carrier, long ago, with the Beach Boys hit “Sloop John B” playing over the loud speakers, and the entire crew joining in on, “I wanta go home, I wanta go home; Oh, how I wanta go home!”  

I sang bass in a shipboard quartet that was called upon several times to sing “The Navy Hymn” and other songs during Burial-At-Sea Services when a shot-up chopper didn’t make it back to the ship, or when a companion went overboard and was lost at sea.

Many an active soldier might appreciate the old Revolutionary War song: “Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, waiting for the war to cease….”