News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

June 12, 2012

LIZ CIANCONE: Reflecting on the many songs of war

Memorial Day was once dedicated to remembering personal ancestors. It has become a spring version of Veterans Day which, in turn, was once known as “Armistice Day” before nearly constant wars turned it into a memorial for all military veterans.

All of this set me thinking about martial music. “Yankee Doodle” began as a put down, the Red Coats making fun of us American rubes. Us Yankees would rather be rubes than monarchists, so we adopted “Yankee Doodle” as our Revolutionary War fight song.

War songs seem to be either sentimental or aggressively martial. If there had been “pop charts” during the Civil War, “Home Sweet Home” would have been number one both north and south of the Mason-Dixon line. Of course both sides had a marching song too: “Marching Through Georgia” for the north, and “Dixie” for the south.

George M. Cohan gave us “Over There” along with marching orders during World War I, and a lovely ballad called “Roses of Picardy” gave us all the nostalgia we could handle.

It wasn’t long after Dec. 7, 1941, that “Remember Pearl Harbor” hit the air, and for a the more light-hearted take on the European front, we could give Hitler a thumb-to-nose by singing along with Spike Jones’ rendition of “Der Fuhrer’s Face.” Every “heil” was delivered with a raspberry.

We had sentiment covered too: “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (with anybody else but me ’til I come marching home). The real tear-jerker was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (if only in my dreams). The English looked forward to a day when “There’ll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover.”

There were some downright silly songs, too. My friend Alice and I giggled over a nonsense ditty called “Cleaning My Rifle and Thinking of You.”

War songs seem to be a thing of the past. Not since “Ballad of the Green Beret” in the Vietnam era am I aware of a single war song, sentimental or martial. Maybe there are some in the rap genre, but I can’t understand what they are saying, so I can’t be sure.

Maybe song writers can’t think of a rhyme for Afghanistan, or maybe we are all bone tired of war.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to

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