Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics - We Are The Mighty
MUSIC

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

The life of a Civil War regimental band member wasn’t all treble clefs and drum sticks. During combat, they were pressed into service as field medics and ambulance drivers, running onto contested battlefields and dragging the wounded off for medical treatment.


The bands were generally raised just before the units they would serve. Some were contracted by state legislatures and others by officers in units they had begun enlisting.

The initial purpose of the band was to help get attention of potential enlistees as a sort of marketing campaign.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
(Photo: Public Domain)

When the units began training and later deploying, the bands would help keep morale up and sometimes assist with music for drills.

But when the units took to the field, there were generally few uses for a full brass band in the middle of combat. Some were ordered to play music in the middle of the fray, like when a Confederate band played during the Battle of Gettysburg and men on both sides heard the music.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
The Zouave ambulance crew, probably made up of members of the military band by the same name, conduct a demonstration of their abilities. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Some musicians became runners, carrying messages as the bullets flew. But most were sent to remove the wounded.

Massachusetts musician John D. Whitcomb later said:

I put some considerable value on the service of the band in the several affairs the regiment was engaged in as an Ambulance Corps. . . . The mere fact of one member of the band being twice required to cross the line of fire of both forces, undoubtedly saved the lives of several members of our own regiment from the fire of one of our own batteries, several members of our own regiment having already been killed by the unfortunately located battery. . . . The bandsmen had been well taught by the surgeon how to give first aid to the wounded, and how to use stretchers, bandages and tourniquets. We were to go with the regiment into battle, rescue the wounded, if possible, and carry them to the field hospital. We were liable to be sent as messengers on dangerous errands.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Notice how front lines never had a particularly safe place to play instruments. (Painting: Don Troiani courtesy of the National Guard)

In 1862, Congress passed a bill to muster out nearly all regimental bands, leaving some at the corps and brigade levels as well as drummers, buglers, and fifers in the companies.

Unsurprisingly since many of the men had worked in battles like Whitcomb’s, they were happy to take their last paychecks and leave.

Later the same year, Maj. Jonathan Letterman created the Ambulance Corps out of specially trained soldiers, along with the medics, nurses, and surgeons who had existed since the Revolutionary War.

The Ambulance Corps proved itself at the Battle of Antietam when they successfully recovered all the wounded in 24 hours. (The musicians sometimes took over a week to do the same after some battles.)

MUSIC

5 of the best musical instruments to go to war with

Musical instruments have been going to war since humans started gathering large armies — I don’t have an exact date, but I can tell you it was a long, long time ago. But humans have advanced to the point where we no longer require war drums. Instead, one guy from a unit brings a guitar on deployment and plays the same three goddamn power chords for eight months.

 

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Just remember, it could always be worse.

 


Musical instruments really were a necessity in warfare for much of human history. Music wasn’t just used for battlefield intimidation, it was used as a means to communicate orders to troops so they could be heard over the din of old-timey combat. Buglers were the radiomen of their day when it came to battlefield tactics. Drummers kept a marching army on the move. All the musical instruments were morale builders for troops a long way from home.

 

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

 

The legacy of music on the battlefield lives on in the modern-day form of U.S. military bands, like the Marine Corps’ The President’s Own, Today, they are used for ceremonial and morale-building events. Admit it, there would be a lot less interest in some events without the pomp and glory of some well-placed martial music.

It is worth nothing, however, that there is a real hierarchy to musical instruments on the battlefield, depending on which side you’re fighting, how big the instrument is, and the amount of effort it takes to haul it into combat.

1. Whistles

And by whistles, I mean the kind lifeguards use to inform you that there’s no running next to the pool. In World War I, officers used whistles to signal a march forward and “over the top” of the trenches and toward the Kaiser. Whistles were used in battles at the Somme, Verdun, and Belleau Wood.

If it seems like a bad idea to use a loud whistle that would alert the enemy (and their machine guns) as you and your mates were coming to inflict pain in the name of the King (or whomever else), you’d be right. A charge across no man’s land was usually a pretty costly affair. The whistle was also used in a number of other ways, like a warning to stay clear of firing artillery.

A good rule of thumb if you ever find yourself in World War I: steer clear of whistles.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

It’s safe to say that these are a bit out of tune.

2. Harmonicas

These days, most people associate the harmonica with cowboys, cattle drivin’, rustlers, and wild-west lawmen. But it actually originated much earlier than all that. It gained popularity in the U.S. in time for the Civil War and was still pretty popular among American troops well through World Wars I and II.

Small, compact, and lightweight, it was not an instrument you’d get confused with say, an order to go over the top, and it didn’t have to be lugged around like Derek’s stupid guitar. It also made for some really great solo music when you’re sitting around by the fire, bored and waiting for your lieutenant to order you to run through mud at a machine gun.

And, unlike a drum, every once it a while, a well-placed harmonica would stop a bullet.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

Which usually would not end well for you and your buds.

3. Bugles

Bugles weren’t just used for battlefield communication, they dominated every aspect of a troop’s daily life. When to wake up, when to eat, when the duty day was over, even sick call — all communicated through bugle calls.

Unfortunately for the enemy, a bugle call more often than not meant the a hundred or more war horses were on their way to mush you and your battle buddies into the ground.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

“Don’t you dare let that beat drop, son.”

4. Drums

Anyone who’s heard the opening bars of Metallica’s Enter Sandman can probably tell you just how awesome drums can be, even if the beat is very simple. In war, drums were not only used as communications, but also as a way to intimidate an enemy force into believing their numbers were bigger than they actually were.

In modern times, drums are used for ceremonial purposes or, like Enter Sandman, as a means of depriving captured Iraqis of sleep.

5. Bagpipes

Easily the best instrument for hiding an army’s numbers, bagpipes were considered a weapon of war until 1996. It was said that a highland regiment never went to war without a piper in the lead, so the bagpipes meant that that an army was on the move — and the enemy (usually the British) could have no idea how big it was. The pipes hid all other sounds.

By World War II, the pipes were relegated to being a background instrument, used only well behind friendly lines — until Bill Millan landed on Sword Beach during D-Day, sporting a kilt and playing the pipes.

The unmistakable sound of bagpipes on the move probably struck fear into the heart of any enemy, even if that sound came from miles away. It was loud enough to give you plenty of warning the Scots were on the move. They wanted you to be there when their army arrived.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Vote now for your favorite MISSION: MUSIC Finalist

UPDATE: THE VOTING IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON MONDAY, SEPT. 25, 2017 AT WE ARE THE MIGHTY!

These veterans beat out hundreds of applicants to become the finalists for Mission: Music — now it’s up to YOU to vote for the one who will have the chance to play live at Base*FEST powered by USAA.


Here’s how it works:

The links to the finalists’ voting pages are below. You can come back every day from Sept. 14 through Sept. 23 to click the vote button on their page.

For every vote received, USAA will donate $1 to Guitars for Vets (up to $10k), a non-profit organization that helps veterans heal through music.

Meet your finalists!

Jericho Hill

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
From left to right: Steve Schneider (US Army), McClain Potter (US Navy).

Jericho Hill is a band created by Army vet Steve Schneider and Navy corpsman McClain Potter. They’ve been writing music and performing together since 2012. CLICK HERE FOR JERICHO HILL’S VOTING PAGE.

Theresa Bowman

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Theresa Bowman (US Air Force)

Theresa Bowman grew up as a Navy brat. She began her music career very early and eventually branched out, developing an interest in stringed instruments. CLICK HERE FOR THERESA’S VOTING PAGE.

Bobby Blackhat Walters

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Bobby Blackhat Walters (US Coast Guard)

After 27 years of service in the Coast Guard, including serving as Military Aide to the President, Bobby decided to pursue music professionally. CLICK HERE FOR BOBBY’S VOTING PAGE.

Home Bru

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
From left to right: Matthew Brunoehler (US Marine Corps), Chelsea Brunoehler (US Navy, US Coast Guard)

Home Bru is a band comprised of husband-and-wife Matt Brunoehler (guitar/banjo/vocals) and Chelsea Brunoehler (bass/vocalist) and an array of friends. CLICK HERE FOR HOME BRU’S VOTING PAGE.

JP GUHNS

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
JP Guhns (US Marine Corps)

JP is a US Marine with four combat deployments to Iraq Afghanistan. He is also a singer/songwriter, life documenter, spirited lover, and careful father. CLICK HERE FOR JP’S VOTING PAGE.

Articles

Navy vet Sturgill Simpson’s country music breakthrough

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Atlantic Records


On his fantastic new album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson uses life at sea to inspire songs about separation from family and a longing for home. Simpson himself grew up in Kentucky and claims he joined the Navy on a whim when driving past a recruiting station.

After three years which included service in Japan and Southeast Asia, he left the service. “I wasn’t very good at taking orders,” he told Garden and Gun in 2014.

After he came home and started a music career, it turned out he wasn’t very good at taking orders from Nashville, either. Simpson wasn’t cut out for the kind of trucks-and-beer pop country that’s dominated the charts over the last decade and made his name on independently-released albums. He had a breakthrough with 2014’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, produced by Dave Cobb (who’s made a name for himself producing fellow Nashville rebels Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell).

Atlantic Records signed Simpson and gave him total freedom to make Sailor’s Guide, which he produced himself. What he made is a compact album (39 minutes, just like the old days!) that combines ’70s Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson with Stax Records-style horns, Al Green keyboard grooves and a Elvis in Memphis vibe.

On the track “Sea Stories,” he talks about joining the Navy:

Basically it’s just like papaw says:

“Keep your mouth shut and you’ll be fine”

Just another enlisted egg

In the bowl for Uncle Sam’s beater

When you get to Dam Neck

Hear a voice in your head

Saying, “my life’s no longer mine”

He also includes a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” where he adds a new lyric. After the line “You don’t know what it means” (where there’s a howling guitar squall on the original version), Simpson sings “to love someone,” a line he says he imagined was there for years after he first heard the Nirvana version. Fans of the BeeGees (and the innumerable soul covers of the song) will appreciate the “To Love Someone” reference.

There’s zero Autotune on the vocals, so this kind of gritty, soulful music may sound a bit weird to fans of Little Big Town or Florida-Georgia Line. None of the songs sound like truck commercials, so you’re probably not going to hear this music on commercial country radio. If Chris Stapleton got your attention last year, though, Simpson’s album is a logical next step into the world of traditional country.

The album’s for sale in all the digital music stores, CDs are really cheap at Amazon and you can stream it on Spotify or Apple Music before you buy. Check out the first two videos from the album below.

Sturgill’s daring cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” 
The album’s first single is “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”     
Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Articles

10 best opening sequences from the glory days of military TV shows

During the halcyon days of broadcast television – before streaming media and DVRs existed – there were a host of military-themed shows on the airwaves. As much as the quality of the episodes (in some cases even more so) these programs were known for their openings and the associated theme songs. Here are 10 of the most classic:


MCCALE’S NAVY (1962-1966)

Forget JFK’s story from his time in the Pacific. Everything America knew about the history of PT boats came from “McCale’s Navy.” The show also showed that skippers could be cool and that POWs should be treated well; in fact, the Japanese prisoner “Fuji” was one of the gang. They even trusted him enough to make him their cook.

COMBAT (1962-1967)

“Combat” lasted five seasons before American attitudes toward the purity of war were tainted by the realities of the Vietnam Conflict that came blasting into living rooms via the nightly news. “Combat” set a serious tone with this opening with epic orchestration and a narrator who’s basically screaming at the viewers.

GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C. (1964-1969)

“Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.” was actually a spin-off of “The Andy Griffith Show” and introduced the public to two concepts that remain true today: DIs are likeable guys underneath their gruff exteriors and (surprise!) the Marine Corps is populated by a goofball or two.

BRANDED (1965-1966)

The drama of the opening theme of “Branded” was by-far the best part of this show. Watching Chuck Connors weather the dishonor of having his rank ripped from his shoulders, his sword broken in two, and the front gate closed behind him after he was shoved through it was heavy stuff.

F TROOP (1965-1967)

Manifest Destiny made into a sitcom. “F Troop” was a comedic take on life in the U.S. Calvary across the western frontier where Indian arrows went through head gear and nothing else.

HOGAN’S HEROES (1965-1971)

Not unlike what “F Troop” did to the reputation of Native Americans, “Hogan’s Heroes” showed the country that the Nazis weren’t inhuman tyrants but rather lovable idiots or clueless buffoons.

THE RAT PATROL (1966-1968)

This opening segment was all about the visual of U.S. Army jeeps going airborne over sand dunes without the guys holding onto the .50 cals in the back flying out or breaking their backs. “The Rat Patrol” was the show that introduced the nation to special ops and the idea that two light vehicles could take on (if not defeat) a column of Panzers.

STAR TREK (1966-1969)

For all of its allegory and social commentary, at its heart “Star Trek” was a show about military life on deployment. The opening remains among TV’s best with Capt. Kirk’s monologue, the Enterprise fly-by, and the soaring (albeit wordless) vocals.

M.A.S.H. (1972-1983)

Set during the Korean War, “M*A*S*H” was derived from Robert Altman’s 1970 black comedy of the same name and the theme song was an instrumental version of “Suicide is Painless” from the movie. The show’s finale was the most watched broadcast of any show ever until Super Bowl XLIV.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNblF1PkSwo

THE A TEAM (1983-1987)

“Punished for a crime they did not commit.” Oh, the injustice of it all. “The A Team” was known for gunfights, explosions, and car crashes that netted ZERO casualties. It’s also the show that made Mr. T into a household name.

MUSIC

Jimi Hendrix got his musical start while in the 101st Airborne

Jimi Hendrix, one of rock’s greatest guitar players, served a brief thirteen-month stint with the famed U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division — nicknamed the “Screaming Eagles” — just a few years before his meteoric rise to rock stardom in the late 60s.


On May 13, 1961, James Marshall Hendrix swore to support and defend the Constitution as a member of the U.S. Army — it was the alternative to serving time in jail on a stolen car charge.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Jimi Hendrix at the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 1967. (Original photographer unknown)

Hendrix wanted to enlist as a musician but had no formal music training, so he opted for the 101st Airborne Division.

“Well Dad, here I am exactly where I wanted to go in the 101st Airborne,” Hendrix wrote home.

As we know, base life can often be a drag, and Hendrix was homesick for his guitar.

“P.S. Please send my guitar as soon as you can. I really need it now,” he requested of his father, Al Hendrix.

Months after joining the Screaming Eagles, life as a paratrooper began to wear on Hendrix’s morale. He was constantly getting reprimanded for dereliction of duties.

Jimi just wanted to play his guitar. His days as a paratrooper came to an end on his 26th jump when he broke his ankle.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Pvt. James Marshall Hendrix and unknown drummer. (Source unknown)

Hendrix began exploring the Fort Campbell area nightlife. He played at places like the Pink Poodle with a group called The Bonnevilles.

Hendrix then ventured down to nearby Nashville where he began jamming with local bluesman at places like The Del Morocco on Jefferson Street and venues along Printer’s Alley.

It was in that vibrant music scene where he met fellow servicemember and bassist Billy Cox. In September 1963, after Cox was discharged from the Army, Hendrix and Cox formed a band called the King Kasuals.

Also read: This musician and veteran invented Jell-O shots to beat base alcohol rules

Hendrix and Cox played around Nashville and continued to hone their music. There’s a rare video from a local TV station of Hendrix playing guitar for Little Richard’s ensemble act, Buddy Stacy, on Nashville’s WLAC Channel 5 television show, Night Train.

In addition to playing in his own band, Hendrix performed as a backing musician for various soul, RB, and blues musicians including Wilson Pickett, Slim Harpo, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, and Jackie Wilson.

It wasn’t until Hendrix ventured up to New York City that he caught the big break that would take him over to England, where he soon became the rock star he is remembered as today.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Jimi Hendrix Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California.

Many think his sonic rendition of our national anthem at Woodstock was an indictment of the Vietnam War.

“We’re all Americans…it was like ‘Go America!’ We play it the way the air is in America today. The air is slightly static, see…” Hendrix explained of his interpretation several weeks after Woodstock.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKvnQYFhGCc

(Kylegood101 | Youtube)

In 2011, the editors of Guitar World placed his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock at number one in their list of his 100 greatest performances.

One can only wonder if Hendrix hadn’t joined the Screaming Eagles, would rock music be the same?

Articles

Top 9 songs for the 4th of July that aren’t by Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood

It’s time, America. It’s time.


Summer’s officially here, the BBQ is hot, the beer is cold, and it’s time to party. Old Glory is still soaring from when we honored Memorial Day, but now we have a holiday where the only requirement is to celebrate.

It’s the 4th of July.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Let freedom ring, b****. (Image via Giphy)

If you’re gonna have an epic party, you need an epic playlist. These tunes will light some fireworks in your soul. Enjoy.

9. Team America World Police — “America F*#k Yeah!”

I LOVE THIS SONG EVERY TIME I HEAR IT.

8. Tom Petty — “American Girl”

A good party playlist should rise and fall. Tom Petty and his ode to the American Girl can keep things calm for a few.

7. Bruce Springsteen — “Born in the USA”

This is a classic and cannot be omitted. Let it happen.

6. Lenny Kravitz — “American Woman”

This makes every woman, including yours truly, want to lose some layers and show off her moves. You’re welcome.

5. Iced Earth “Declaration Day”

Sometimes you just need to say it with metal: “Freedom is not free.”

4. Katy Perry — “Firework”

This song is catchy as hell and you know it.

3. Brad Paisley — “American Saturday Night”

You had me at French kissing and a cooler of cold Coronas.

2. Metallica — “Don’t Tread on Me”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmvG2ZiPfoo
Metallica knows how to make some epic tunes, but they’re also great about supporting the troops. Easy add to the list.

1. Whitney Houston “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Not only was Houston’s voice absolute perfection, when she recorded this song, she donated the proceeds of the single to benefit the veterans of the Persian Gulf War. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she re-released it, this time donating her profits to the firefighters and victims of the attacks.

For those of you who are out there continuing to fight for the freedoms we cherish, you have our gratitude. Stay safe.

Check out the full list here, and Happy 4th of July, you freedom lover, you.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Revolutionary War musicians wore different colored uniforms

We’ve all seen the famous painting, Spirit of ’76. In it, a young Revolutionary War drummer boy is marching alongside two other musicians. The boy is in his Continental Army uniform, looking up to an older drummer who is not in uniform. Another uniformed musician is wounded, but marching and playing the fife.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
That is what a ‘game face’ looks like.
(Painting by Archibald Willard)

Today, Civil War veteran Archibald Willard’s 1875 painting still evokes patriotism in many Americans. It was, after all, painted on the eve of the United States’ centennial. Willard was the grandson of one of the Green Mountain Boys who, led by legendary patriot Ethan Allen, invaded Canada and captured Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolution. But there are a few errors in the painting: The scene it depicts never happened, the flag in the background wasn’t approved by Congress until much later, and the musicians are not wearing the right uniforms.

None of that really matters, it’s still a painting that resonates with Americans 100 years later. However, questions remain. What did the musicians wear in the Revolution? And why was it a different uniform from their fellow colonials?

It turns out it was both a tactical decision and an economic one.


In those days, musicians in an army existed to expedite communications on the battlefield. Music was loud enough to be heard over the din of combat and varied enough so that American troops would be able to respond to orders given from battlefield commanders without confusing them for other orders. They could even tell the enemy that the rival commanders wanted a parley. Incredibly (and accurately depicted in the painting), these communications were done by old men and boys who were either too old or too young to fight.

Related: This drummer boy was 12 years old when he became a Civil War hero

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

(Copyright 2010 by Randy Steele)

Boys that were younger than age 16 and men older than age 50 were enlisted as musicians. At the time, the average life expectancy for an American colonist was around 36 years, so a man older than 50 was both honored for his longevity and hard to find. Finding them on a dirty, smokey battlefield was just as difficult, so the uniforms they wore needed to be slightly more visible. There was also an economic component involved with the decision.

The regular Continental soldier wore a blue coat with red cuffs. Musicians, on the other hand, wore a red coat with blue cuffs. The red made them stand out on a battlefield where visibility was limited. It also made them stand out to the enemy, so if they were discovered, it was immediately clear that the small figure ahead was a musician — unarmed and not a threat (drummers were considered noncombatants). As an added bonus, the inverted uniforms were made from leftover materials in creating soldiers’ garb.

By the time Ohioan Archibald Willard was serving in the Civil War, musicians were wearing the same uniforms as their armed, regular battle buddies. Their purpose on the battlefields and in camp were the same — and Civil War armies still, by and large, used young boys (some as young as age 9) as drummers and buglers, but many also included full bands, with as many as 68 members in some units.

Now Read: Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

As battlefield communication methods improved, drums soon gave way to the bugle and, eventually, musicians disappeared from the battlefield altogether. Their role has since been replaced by radio and satellite communications, but for the time that musicians served in their battlefield communications role, the boys and men that filled those ranks were some of the bravest who ever marched with an army.

Articles

Listen to the tango the Red Army used to intimidate the Nazis at Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad is widely considered the turning point for the Soviets on World War II’s Eastern Front, and maybe the entire war. From the rubble of Stalingrad came hundreds of small stories each more difficult to believe – yet, still true.


Related: This building in Stalingrad became the Russian version of The Alamo in World War II

Another eerie, true story to come from the fighting there was the music the Red Army played as propaganda as the two sides fought over the now-infamous city.

In “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege 1942-1943,” Antony Beevor describes how the NKVD, the Soviet secret police and forerunner to the KGB, set up loudspeakers throughout the city. For weeks, the Soviets played a tango they believed conveyed a sinister mood: “The Tango of Death”

Interspersed with the music was the sounds of a ticking clock and messages in German about how hopeless their position in the city really was or that a German soldier died every seven seconds.

These musical programs were also driven around on vans throughout the city streets. They began with quotes like “Stalingrad, mass grave of Hitler’s army!” then go into the music, clock, and demoralizing quotes. Often times, the ends would be punctuated by the firing of Katyusha rockets at Nazi positions.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
Katyusha rockets fired during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942.

The propaganda effect may not have worked the way it was supposed to, but the constant bombardment of audio sure did. The Nazis became increasingly exhausted in “Counting Sheep, the Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams,” Paul Martin quotes German soldiers at Stalingrad, who suffered from extreme exhaustion waiting for the Soviet broadcasts to end.

Doing the math, if a song is roughly four minutes, it will play 15 times in an hour, 360 times in a day, 2,520 times in a week – or 58,680 during the 163-day Battle of Stalingrad. Beevor also notes that the Red Army’s favorite song to play for the visiting Germans was “Zemlyanka” by Aleksey Surkov.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYZGvWqF7hU
Just in case the Germans found “Tango de la Muerte” more than a little upbeat, that is.
MUSIC

‘Dear John’ letters inspired a classic Jim Croce song

Love letters from girls back at home are colloquially known as “Dear John” letters…but they’re not always true. In 1972, Jim Croce released “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels),” a song about a one-sided conversation with a telephone operator. The singer is trying to find an old flame who seems to have run off to Los Angeles on a tryst with his old friend. The caller expresses his disbelief at being betrayed by someone he once trusted. It’s an all-too-common story, especially among those serving in the military — Jody ran off with the singer’s girl. 

In fact, Jody is exactly what inspired Croce to write the song, except it wasn’t about his old flame, it was about everybody else’s on the base where he was stationed, back in the days when a phone call cost a dime.


Operator, well could you help me place this call?
See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s living in L.A. with my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Croce enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1966 with hopes of being able to avoid active service and a potential trip to Vietnam. He ended up serving on active duty for a few months, having to go through basic military training two times. Explaining that he was not good with authority, he once said he would be totally prepared if he “had to go to war with a mop.”

Still, he had a unique experience in the Army, one he probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Some years later, his wife relayed the story of Jim waiting in the rain at the Post Exchange, listening to soldiers make calls on the payphones. He would overhear many, many “Dear John” stories as the soldiers called their ex-lovers to find out if the fateful letters they’d received were serious.

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics

Jim and Ingrid Croce during Jim’s Army service.

Croce, who died in 1973, remarked:

There wasn’t a phone booth; it was just stuck up on the side of the building and there were about 200 guys in each line waiting to make a phone call back home to see if their ‘Dear John’ letter was true, and with their raincoat over their heads covering the telephone and everything, and it really seemed that so many people were going through the same experience, going through the same kind of change, and to see this happen, especially on something like the telephone and talking to a long-distance operator, this kinda registered.

Later, after Croce left the military, he worked in a bar and noticed the same phenomenon happening at the bar’s payphone. People always wanted to check up on someone but end up talking to the operator.

By the end of the song, the caller tells the operator he’s over the whole thing, but it’s clear that the caller isn’t. After all, nothing is going to change in one phone call. Jody worked fast, even in 1972.

Articles

The 9 greatest military-themed pop songs in modern history

A lot of popular music artists have attempted to capture the military experience over the years, but only a small percentage of them have gotten it right in the eyes of the community. Here are the 9 that did it best:


1. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Of Company B,” The Andrews Sisters (1941)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qafnJ6mRbgk

A fast-living jazz musician from Chicago gets drafted and winds up in the heat of the action with Bravo Company. But his CO is a music fan who uses his power and influence to get the rest of the guy’s band drafted and assigned to the same unit. They all wind up hated by their fellow soldiers because they’re the ones who play reveille every morning, never mind whether or not it’s a hip version of it. As classic a military tale as there is.

2. “Billy, Don’t be a Hero,” Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (1974)

A young patriot goes to war against his fiancees’ wishes and gets killed because he didn’t follow her sage guidance. And in the end she tears up the letter that documents his heroism because she feels like his service and sacrifice were a waste.  This classic by these one-hit wonders may qualify as “bubblegum pop,” but its subject matter is super intense.

3. “Ballad of the Green Beret,” Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, U.S. Army (1966)

“Silver wings, upon his chest . . .” This song was written by author Robin Moore and SSgt. Sadler while Sadler was recovering from wounds he sustained while serving as a medic in Vietnam, a fact that kept him from getting grief from fellow soldiers for going on TV in full uniform and singing with kind of a high voice. “Ballad of the Green Beret” became a no. 1 hit — amazing considering how the American public was rapidly going south about the war in Vietnam and pro-military sentiments were already hard to find.

4. I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag, Country Joe McDonald (1968)

Country Joe was a counterculture crooner from the Bay Area who walked on stage at Woodstock after Richie Havens’ opening set basically to kill some time. He played two songs with little response from the massive crowd and walked off. He thought better of it and walked back on and did what was commonly known as “the FISH cheer” (that actually spells something else). The crowd came alive, so he launched into “Fixin’ to Die Rag,” a satire of the military-industrial complex and the impact of the war on suburbia, which was included in the “Woodstock” movie and, as a result, became a classic hit of the Vietnam era.

5. “Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tClM00n0fhY

Perhaps John Fogarty’s best recorded vocal performance, “Fortunate Son” hit the airwaves at a time when the Vietnam-era draft was starting to feel like class warfare and the hypocrisy of the ruling elite was revealing itself. With a driving beat, a searing guitar riff, and Forgarty singing lyrics like “I ain’t no senator’s son, no no,” the song resonated with those doing their duty while their richer and better-placed peers didn’t. “Fortunate Son” made it to no. 3 on the charts.

6. “The Star Spangled Banner (live at Woodstock),” Jimi Hendrix (1969)

Jimi Hendrix was not that well known in America when he took the stage at Woodstock on the morning of August 18, 1969. It was a Monday morning and all but several thousand of the nearly 1 million attendees had left the festival. Hendrix, an Army vet, surprised the audience (and his band) by launching into his rendition of the National Anthem, a version that many conservatives at the time criticized as unpatriotic. But history has shown it to be perhaps the most accurate musical portrayal of the state of America at the time and, beyond that, a timeless reading of the chaos of war. In 2011, the editors of Guitar World placed his rendition at number one in their list of his 100 greatest performances.

7. “War Pigs,” Black Sabbath (1970)

With an ominous air raid siren opening and lyrics like “generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses,” this track from Sabbath’s classic second album “Paranoid” was heavy metal before anyone even knew there was such a thing. And in Ozzy’s shallow metaphor lives the sentiments of millions who have gone in harm’s way since man first took up arms.

8. “99 Luftballoons,” Nena (1983)

The oldest military story ever told: 99 balloons are mistaken for UFOs, causing a general to send pilots to investigate. Finding nothing but child’s balloons, the pilots decide to put on a show and shoot them down. The display of force worries the nations along the borders and the war ministers on each side bang the drums of conflict to grab power for themselves. In the end, a 99-year war results from the otherwise harmless flight of balloons, causing devastation on all sides without a victor. (Wikipedia)

9. “Bodies,” Drowning Pool (2001)

The song that launched thousands of patrols out of the FOBs and into the dirty streets of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Bodies” may not have been written with the military in mind, but it’s urgent beat and overall atmosphere of brutality worked for those who answered the call after 9-11, and they adopted it as their own. Also of note is that the song was used by interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps in 2003, including over a 10-day period during the “questioning” of terror suspect Mohamedou Ould Slahi.

Now: Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

 

MUSIC

7 mandatory songs for your PT playlist

Lifting weights is one thing, but training for the PT test is another. Passing the test was fine, but for all my fellow over achievers out there, maxing that thing took a lot of work (usually whilst red-faced, lungs screaming, and contemplating desertion…).


Somehow I didn’t learn until my 6th year of taking the PT test that a playlist could make all the difference.

Also read: 6 military cadences you will never forget

Here are 7 songs I recommend you add to yours immediately:

1. “Bodies” — Drowning Pool

Overplayed? Never. This is the song I listened to when I maxed the PT test, and if you knew what kind of whiney little b**** of a runner I am, you’d appreciate that miracle. Listen with headphones on and I guarantee you’ll beat your last score.

2. “Enter Sandman” — Metallica

Because Metallica. Obviously.

3. “Thunderstruck” — AC/DC

If it’s good enough for Iron Man, it’s good enough for me.

4. “Paradise City” — Guns N’ Roses

Shout out to retired Air Force vet Brian Ball for this recommendation. It’s a good one. Nothing like classic GNR to keep the blood pumping.

5. “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs” — Fall Out Boy

Something about this song feels so intense, like sh*t is about to go down. Whatever musical wizardry is behind it, when I turn up the volume on this track, I turn up the intensity of my workout.

6. “Turn Down for What” — DJ Snake, Lil Jon

Because when you really start to sweat, you need a little pick-me-up. I can almost pretend I’m at the club instead of at the gym.

7. “You Give Love A Bad Name” — Bon Jovi

To max the PT test, you either need to be in phenomenal shape or you need to really push yourself to your limits, which is very stressful for the body and mind. Bon Jovi helps with stress. You’re welcome.

Check out the rest of our PT Moto II Battle Mix right here:

MUSIC

The votes are in – this Coastie is the MISSION: MUSIC winner

YOU VOTED AND THE RESULTS ARE IN! CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR MISSION: MUSIC WINNER, BOBBY “BLACKHAT” WALTERS!!

Bobby is a Coastal Virginia Bluesman and an award-winning recording artist, harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, producer, comedian, and actor. He’s also been playing harp for over 40 years.


Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
From left to right: Bobby Blackhat Walters (USCG) and guitarist Tom Euler

After 27 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, which included serving as Military Aide to the President and being awarded the Coast Guard Medal for Heroism, Bobby started to pursue music professionally. He is a proud graduate of two Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) programs: Piano and Comedy Bootcamp.

“I love doing what I do because music allows me to get fingers poppin’, toes tappin’, hip shakin’, and faces smilin’. Through music I can bring joy and happiness to the lives of others. I am a prime example that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and check an item off that pesky bucket list.”

Bobby will have the opportunity to perform live at a future Base*FEST Powered by USAA.

Thanks to everyone who voted, USAA will donate $10k to Guitars for Vets, a non-profit organization that enhances lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and a forum to learn how to play. Your votes helped those who served rediscover their joy through the power of music!

Civil War musicians served as battlefield medics
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