The go-to song for so many troops on long deployments missing their friends and family back home was originally written for a little boy.
Singer Richie McDonald wrote the song for his son who was 4-years-old at the time while the band was on tour in 2001. His son asked, “Daddy, when are you coming home?” It makes you wonder how many times our servicemen heard those same words in the years to come. The song was soon adopted by many in service. And ever since, the band has dedicated it to our military every single night.
Lonestar started playing military shows shortly after 9/11 when their song, “I’m Already There,” hit the airwaves. Many of our military men and women adopted it, writing letters describing how much those words and melody meant to them. “It’s so gratifying to know that we did something that can make somebody’s life better from being away from their families,” says Michael Britt, lead guitarist.
Just two weeks after American forces landed at Normandy on D-Day, Jack Leroy Tueller, one of those Americans, was taking sniper fire with the rest of his unit. Tueller played the sniper a beautiful song from his trumpet.
He was orphaned at age five, but before World War II, Jack Tueller would play first-chair trumpet in the Brigham Young University orchestra. After going to war as a pilot, his trumpet skills would serve him well, along with at least one German soldier and both their families.
Jack Tueller served in the Army Air Forces in the European Theater, flying more than 100 combat missions in a P-47 Thunderbolt. He earned the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross, among others. After the war, he became a missilier in the newly-formed U.S. Air Force and would serve in Korea and Vietnam as well. But his most memorable military moment would always be a night in Normandy when the power of music risked — and saved — his life.
It was a dark, rainy night in Northern France when then-Capt. Tueller decided to play his trumpet for everyone within earshot. The only problem was that not everyone in the area would be very receptive to a song in the dead of night — especially not the sniper trying to shoot him dead.
That wasn’t about to deter a man like Tueller, who took his trumpet on every combat mission. If he was ever shot down, he wanted to use it to play songs in the POW camps.
Tueller had been grounded for the night. His unit already cleared most of the area of snipers, but there was one left. Tueller’s commander told him not to play that night because at least one sniper was still operating in the area. The sniper had a sound aimer, which meant he didn’t have to to see his target, only hear it.
But the pilot insisted. He needed a way to relieve his own stress. His commander told him, “it’s your funeral.”
Jack Tueller thought to himself that the sniper, suddenly being on the losing end of World War II in Europe, was probably as scared and lonely as he was. And so he decided to play a German love song on the trumpet, Lili Marlene, and let the melody flow through Normandy’s apple orchards and into the European night.
The airman played the song all the way through and nothing happened.
Listen to Tueller, who would live on to be a Colonel in the Air Force after the war, play his version of the tune in the video below (58 seconds in).
The very next morning a U.S. Army Jeep leading a group of captured Wehrmacht soldiers approached Tueller and his cohorts. The military policemen told Capt. Tueller that one of the POWs, who was on their way to England, wanted to know who was playing the trumpet the night before.
The captured German, just 19 years old, burst into tears and into the song Tueller played the night before. In broken English, the man told Tueller he thought about his fiancée and his entire family when he heard his trumpet — and he couldn’t fire. It was the song he and his fiancée loved and sang together. The man stuck out his hand.
Captain Jack Tueller shook the hand of his captured enemy.
“He was no enemy,” Tueller says, looking back. “He was scared kid, like me. We were both doing what we were told to do. I had no hatred for him.”
Jack Tueller died in 2016 in his native state of Utah at age 95, still playing the same trumpet he carried on all of his World War II air sorties.
Look, it is easy, and deeply enjoyable, to give Oscar Mike host Ryan Curtis boatloads of crap for the shenanigans and mannerisms (shenannerisms?) he regularly deploys in the line of duty. It’s easy because he’s a good sport. It’s enjoyable because, well:
But credit where credit is due, it is no easy thing to drop in on a recording studio unprepared, be played a brand new beat, compose a non-wack verse and then get into the booth and spit your best whiteboy flow in front of a hot producer and a rapper at the top of his game.
TMR served 10 years in the Middle East as a Marine Corps combat correspondent, ala Joker from Full Metal Jacket. Though he started rapping young, he found he had to put his passion on ice during active duty — no time to think, let alone rhyme.
When he finally left the service, the transition was rough.
“It was a reality shock. I didn’t know where to go. You’re like, ‘I have all this time on my hands,’ and you get to thinking… ‘I was such a super hero in the military, but now I’m just a regular civilian. Nobody cares about me. I’m nothing now. Why should I even live?'”
Finding himself in a dark headspace familiar to many vets exiting the military, TMR did a hard thing: he asked for help.
With the assistance of the VA, he was able to reorient, finding an outlet in his long-dormant passion for rap. He now lives in Hollywood, CA, cutting tracks and shooting music videos to support his budding career as a musician.
And, no joke, in a single day of working together, TMR, producer Louden and the Artist Formerly Known as Ryan Curtis may just have succeeded in dropping the U.S. military’s first ever chart-topping hip hop track:
It’s a lock for New Oscar Mike Theme Song at the very least.
Watch as Curtis looks for lyrics in a Magic 8 Ball and TMR proves there’s no room in his game for shame, in the video embedded at the top.
Musical duo Big Rich are normally known for their flashy country songs — tunes you’d be accustomed to hearing at big parties and tailgates. But in 2006, the two country stars took their music down a different path with a soulful song that remembers and honors Operation Hump — one of many costly battles that American soldiers saw themselves engaged in during the Vietnam War.
Titled “8th of November,” a reference to the official start of Operation Hump, the song brings to life the story of one Master Sgt. Niles Harris, now retired from a lengthy career with the US Army. Harris got his first taste of combat in the mid-1960s in Vietnam, deploying as a Sky Soldier with the legendary 173rd Airborne Brigade’s 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment.
On the 8th of November, 1965, as the song goes, a combined force of 400 soldiers from the regiment’s 1st Battalion, Australian and New Zealander units, were ordered to step out on a search-and-destroy mission where they would root out and strike Vietcong irregulars with the hopes of pushing them out of the region.
Within hours of beginning their move towards Hill 65, a key objective, 1st Battalion’s C Company was ambushed by a massive force of Vietcong, dug in on the side of the hill, and hidden in the dense jungle surrounding the American-led force.
B Company, also sent out on the mission, began making its way towards Charlie with the hope of relieving the beleaguered Sky Soldiers, taking heavy fire from VC fighters. The fighting was so close at times that B Company infantrymen often found themselves fixing their bayonets to deal with surprise close-in guerrilla attacks.
As it turns out, these 400 soldiers had stumbled onto an entire regiment of Vietcong. Settling into the battle, B Company called in a number of highly successful artillery strikes that forced away the VC fighters…albeit temporarily.
Instead of retreating, the VC commander ordered his troops to outflank the American element, which was now in the process of recovering its fallen and entrenching itself for a prolonged battle. By positioning his guerrillas close to the wary Sky Soldiers, he theorized that the American units would be unable to call in more artillery strikes, giving the VC an advantage.
However, even in the midst of the fierce battle, with soldiers at times having to engage in hand-to-hand combat, the men of the 503rd held their ground and successfully repelled the Vietcong. Hill 65 was now theirs for the taking. A full evacuation would take place the following morning, on the 9th.
Even with the American victory, the battle still took its toll on the 503rd, with 49 Sky Soldiers killed in action, and considerable numbers listed wounded in action. The Australian/New Zealander detachment also sustained two fatal casualties of its own.
Operation Hump proved to be one of the deadliest days in the 173rd’s long and storied history. The event wasn’t publicly commemorated till 2006, with the release of Big Rich’s hit single.
In the years that followed, the song sparked a larger remembrance of the battle, however. This culminated with the unveiling of a large mural in 2009 at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum at Ft. Bragg, with a significant portion dedicated to Operation Hump and the 49 Sky Soldiers who lost their lives that fateful day.
Dropping an album on iTunes in 2017 is a far cry from releasing a single on vinyl in 1936, but at least one person has done both. Vera Lynn, the acclaimed singer of pop standards, from “We’ll Meet Again” to “The White Cliffs of Dover,” entertained Allied troops from England to Burma, but also sang at the Diamond Jubilee anniversary celebration of Victory in Europe Day in 2005.
Her long, storied career began with her being dubbed “The Forces’ Sweetheart” and is still ongoing, as Vera Lynn also is the oldest living musical artist to make it to number one on the British music charts. And while she may be more of a big deal in the UK, American military aficionados have most definitely heard her voice.
Lynn supporting British troops in World War II.
During World War II, Lynn had her own BBC music show, Sincerely Yours. As the Forces’ Sweetheart, it was an instant hit with Britain’s fighting men. Lynn, determined to do her duty as the rest of Britain was doing in WWII, deployed to support the troops in places like Egypt, India, and Burma.
Like many of the greatest generation, she took the deployment with a stiff upper lip, recalling that she stayed in dirt and grass huts, using a bucket of water to clean herself in those remote locations. She never charged the government a dime for her effort. She even criticized former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, who performed for UK troops in Oman in 2001. Halliwell demanded a fridge full of soy milk for her performance and was paid “tens of thousands of pounds” by the Ministry of Defence.
“She’s lucky to be somewhere there is a fridge,” Lynn told The Guardian. “If she can’t give up her time free for troops who are there to defend her and her way of life, that is very sad.”
Jenkins supporting British troops in Iraq.
Of course, even the most striking rendition of “The White Cliffs of Dover” isn’t going to draw a crowd of 18-25 year old service members these days. Dame Vera Lynn spent her postwar career still supporting the troops, lending her voice to the 1970s documentary, The World at War.
At the 60th Anniversary of VE Day, Lynn passed the mantle of “Forces’ Sweetheart” to Welsh Singer Katherine Jenkins, who was singing a rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” when she pulled Lynn onstage to duet for a few bars. Jenkins promised to go entertain British troops deployed to Iraq — and Jenkins did the very next year.
Dame Vera Lynn is 101 years old as of 2018, but she just released two albums the last year, and is the only centenarian to have an album top the charts. She beat out Bob Dylan as the oldest artist to chart in the UK and beat both the Arctic Monkeys and the Beatles in the pop charts that year.
Vera Lynn 100 and Her Greatest From Abbey Road were released in 2017, the latter containing previously unreleased recordings of Lynn in her prime.
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.
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.
As a prior butter bar, I want you to know that I have no regrets about my career choice.
Sure, when I signed up for the military, I thought I was going to get to do a little less paperwork and a little more single handedly saving the entire world from terrorism for all time with my bravery, but hey, we all have our roles to play. Mine was to ensure my people were able to conduct mission ops — and deep down, I know that’s important, too.
I was very calculated about which branch I would serve in (Air Force, duh — I’m not a masochist) and how I would earn my commission (on the beaches of Southern California, like a BAMF). We trained on Fridays, and I was super into it (ROTC nerd to an extreme level) so I also attended optional Saturday morning training, which meant I missed out on the collegiate Thirsty Thursday, Friday night parties, and Saturday night shenanigans (because I was tired from all that training, bro).
So it really wasn’t until active duty that I realized how much lieutenants could party.
When we were at intel school at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, we set up a “pub crawl” where everyone served signature drinks from their dorm rooms — everything from a shot of Jeremiah Weed to a game of flip cup to Vodka mixed with Airborne tablets (“to help our immune systems.”)
My first Gin and Tonic was consumed in the SCIF while cramming for the Navy test (does one really need to be sober to learn about boats? I mean ships…).
In Korea, the pilots partied so hard I started carrying a sharpie with me so I could make a tic-mark on my palm to track my drinks. Most nights left me waking up with a bar code across my palm.
But beyond the drinking, the butter bars in the office are more likely to liven up the office with pranks and jokes — and let’s not forget who keeps the snack bar full.
Butter bars have it great. They have enough training under their belts to feel confident about testing themselves but not enough experience for any serious responsibility. It’s a carefree time. The good ones acknowledge their shortcomings and learn quickly. The crappy ones… well, you can read some of their stories in the comments on this post (and add your own — it’s hilarious!).
The point is, butter bars are precious. They’re bright eyed and ready for a good time. They don’t know that the sh*t is about to get real. Look out for them. Show them the way.
3. They’re the future brass
Four-stars have to start somewhere, right? Their experiences as CGOs will have an effect on their leadership style down the road, so help them out. Teach them the mission. Remind them of what’s important. Show them the value of mutual respect.
They’ll remember it later and we’ll all be better for it.
And for all you 0-1s out there, work hard before you play hard. You might be at the bottom of the officer ranks now, but you’ve still got men and women who rely on you.
Christmas can be a special time of the year, but for those troops who have deployed, it’s a very bittersweet time. Their families also have those same bittersweet feelings. The reason why is obvious: During a holiday where families gather, the military stands watch. Whether deployed overseas or stationed far from home, military members are often separated from their families during the holidays.
Grammy nominees John Ondrasik, who goes by the stage name Five for Fighting, and pianist Jim Brickman teamed up to write a Christmas song for the troops after witnessing troops and their families feel those raw emotions. The two singers had been involved with Operation Care Package and the USO, and the product of their collaboration is “Christmas Where You Are,” which is available on iTunes.
“The holidays can be an especially hard time for our troops and their families,” Ondrasik and Brickman said in a release, “‘Christmas Where You Are’ is a thank you and reminder to soldiers that we are with them in heart and spirit, wherever they stand, in service and sacrifice to our nation. We hope that no matter where these brave men and women are stationed, the warmth and love of family transcends the miles. We want them to know that a grateful nation holds them close to our hearts.”
Grammy nominee Ondrasik, a philanthropist and singer-songwriter, has sold over three million records. He has released six albums. Brickman, a two-time Grammy nominee and Dove Award winner, has 21 Number One albums. “Christmas Where You Are” will also be featured on Brickman’s latest album, A Joyful Christmas, which is dropping on Nov. 10.
Grammy nominees John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting (right) and Jim Brickman. (Photo by Duston Todd/BYU TV)
Some of the proceeds of the song will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation, as well as What Kind Of World Do You Want, an initiative Ondrasik created which helps raise funds for Augie’s Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront.
You let us tag along on your convoy. You let us raid a house in the stack. You watched our ass while our head was in a camera viewfinder. You even let us eat your food. So when you ask us for some of the footage of the unit in action we’re happy to oblige.
When you want us to make a music video of it, no problem, even though we know using copyrighted music is illegal. We want you to keep letting us roll with you…and for you to keep saving our asses.
But then one of your officers tells us to use one of these eight songs and it makes us die inside.
1. Drowning Pool — “Bodies”
This is by far the most overused song ever paired with combat camera footage (with “Soldiers” a close second). And it’s not just commanders asking combat camera to do this. Civilians do this ad nauseam.
That video has more than a million views. A MILLION. I don’t understand the enduring popularity of this song, but if there’s a better or more obvious song about killing a lot of people, I haven’t heard it.
2. Saliva — “Click Click Boom”
A full 20 percent of YouTube is probably the same video footage of the military with this Saliva song — this Saliva song about how great the lead singer’s childhood was and how totally awesome it is that he’s on the radio now.
I wish Beavis and Butthead were around to rip on this band. Still, it does make it pretty easy to edit a video fast, even if I feel like a complete hack afterward.
The only lyric the casual listener probably understands for most of the song is “Bombs Over Baghdad,” so when you send it to your mom, she gets the point of the video, and can’t really hear about the struggles of Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s pre-stardom struggle.
4. Chad Kroeger ft. Josey Scott — “Hero”
The singers from Nickelback AND Saliva. Enough said. Good lord this song was so big in 2002-2003. You’ll be just as proud of a video featuring you clearing houses to this song as you are your trucker hat collection and your flip phone.
This song was supposed to be an uplifting anthem for the first Spider-Man movie but it’s the most depressing song I’ve ever been asked to use in any video ever. I bet if you asked Kirsten Dunst what the low point of her career was, it would be that she didn’t have the choice to be excluded from this music video.
5. P.O.D. — “Boom”
Another band who sings about how they’re a band now. If you haven’t noticed the trend, guitar riffs and shouting “boom” were super popular in the early 2000s.
P.O.D. is the MySpace of metal. They’re still around but no one knows why.
6. Toby Keith — “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”
This song is so cheesy, I’m actually surprised Chad Kroeger didn’t write it, but maybe there are some things even Pop Rock Jesus won’t do. Some of you might think this song is awesome but I doubt you’d play it at a party in front of all your friends.
Also Toby Keith got more awards and plaques from military units just for singing this song than some people got for actually enlisting after 9/11.
7. Godsmack — “I Stand Alone”
Forget for a moment that the frontman sounds like Adam Sandler’s impression of Eddie Vedder. This song’s lyrics read like they were translated from Nepali by Google Translate. Also, unless your unit is the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae (it isn’t), you definitely don’t stand alone.
8. AC/DC — “Thunderstruck”
Ok, this isn’t an awful song. I mean, I get why you might want six minutes of your squadron or platoon blowing things up to AC/DC. But, aside from the opening minute and a half or so, this is could be any AC/DC song. All AC/DC songs sound like this. That’s why we love them.
Nazareth — Hair of the Dog
To be honest, this request only happened once, but do you really think any young Marine is going to love watching themselves on a dismounted patrol to this song?
Why not just have me choose something from Chicago’s greatest hits? If I gave any grunt a music video of themselves with this song, they’d beat my Air Force ass so hard.
Military members and veterans had a field day when they discovered the Air Force’s Max Impact Band and their highly produced music video but it turns out the Army has a few touring bands of its own – all part of the United States Army Field Band.
The Army fields a number of official touring bands, all comprised of active soldiers. But the members of the U.S. Army’s Field Band are considered “The Musical Ambassadors of the Army,” going around to play for civilians and military installations alike. The unit has four touring sub-bands: The Concert Band, The Soldiers’ Chorus, the Jazz Ambassadors, and the Six-String Soldiers — its bluegrass-country cover band.
The “Six-String Soldiers” were “The Volunteers” — a rock cover band — until a few short years ago; they now no longer perform rock music (but you can still listen to their old cover songs on their SoundCloud page).
(U.S. Army photo)
The Volunteers seamlessly transitioned between rock, pop, and country music from all decades. The band was as old as the concept of an all-volunteer force, formed in 1981, just a few years after the draft disappeared from daily American life. Like most cover bands (presumably), The Volunteers wanted to one day perform their own original material for audiences. They never got the chance, but the Six String Soldiers keep their spirit alive and well.
These days you can find all of the Army’s versatile musical soldiers performing on military bases, at VA hospitals, music festivals, and special events. They aren’t limited to the military-veteran community – that’s the whole point of their mission. They want to reach out to the public and show the diversity and vast scope of the U.S. Army.
Give a listen to The Six-String Soldiers cover Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” in the video below.
While he’s more famous for being “The Man In Black,” Johnny Cash served in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War and was the first man outside of the Soviet Union to learn of Premier Joseph Stalin’s death.
The Man In Black passed the message up the chain and returned to work. Cash’s job already required that he have limited off-post privileges and contact with locals. Still, he couldn’t discuss what happened with even his close friends.
The rest of the world would soon learn of Stalin’s death and the ascent of Georgy Malenkov.
Cash, meanwhile, would leave the service honorably just over a year later and return to Texas where he had trained. He married his first wife the same year and signed with Sun Records in 1955.
He played the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time the same year.
Over the following 48 years, Cash wrote thousands of songs and released dozens of albums before his death in September 2003 at the age of 71.
A Marine Corps band first played “Hail to the Chief” for Andrew Jackson as he walked off on his way to Ohio. It earned three cheers from his adoring crowd. After President John Tyler adopted it for his 1841-1845 term in office, the tradition stuck and American Presidents have been associated with the song ever since.
But before that, they tried to choose a personal theme song. Thanks, John Tyler.
George Washington almost had “Hail, Columbia” as his theme, with lyrics like “Let Washington’s great name ring through the world to loud applause.” And Jefferson tried to get “Jefferson and Liberty” as his theme song, with lyrics like “But join with heart and soul and voice, for Jefferson and Liberty!”
In the January-February 2017 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Abigail Tucker detailed the history of the song and how it came to be played for the President of the United States. In the early days of our nation, the general population wasn’t too fond of the British. So when a theatrical version of the 1810 poem “Lady of the Lake” premiered in Philadelphia, it really caught on.
The show was an epic historical story about the life of an anti-British elite who is destined for greatness but whose life is tragically cut short by a power hungry villain. The stage show was a musical production that American audience immediately fell in love with and soon the whole country was raving about the show and its songs. So it was basically the “Hamilton” of the 1800s.
After the War of 1812, anti-British sentiment was still riding high and even though “Lady of the Lake” was about an anti-British Scotsman it hardly mattered to Americans. He was an awesome character and that was enough. The lyrics were changed a number of times, however. Poetic olive trees eventually replaced Scottish pines and the hero of the song stopped murdering British people.
Eventually, people completely forgot the official lyrics of the song.
Today the Defense Department mandates that “Hail to the Chief” only be played by the Marine Corps band in B-flat major and only for a sitting President in a “stately context” and at Presidential funerals.