Top 10 War Songs in Country Music
Country artists have never shied away from recording songs that tell the stories of the wars that the U.S. has been involved in. From Johnny Horton‘s “Battle of New Orleans” to Trace Adkins‘ “Arlington,” artists (and their fans) have embraced the idea of supporting our soldiers through music.
The Boot has compiled a list of country music’s best-loved war songs. When going through the genre’s rich heritage of songs about our soldiers, the wars they’ve fought and the loved ones left behind, it was hard to choose just 10, but after much contemplating, looking and listening, here is the group that made the list.
Otto released “Soldiers and Jesus” in 2010 and says that when he started playing the song at his concerts, it got standing ovations. Told from a young boy’s perspective, the tune is the story of attending his grandfather’s funeral and struggling not to cry. In the song, the young boy is now older and recalls what the man who preached at the funeral told the gathered crowd: The only two people who ever died for him were soldiers and Jesus.
Otto’s grandfather was a Korean War vet, and his father was a career military man. He himself joined the Navy right out of high school and has played for military members overseas on a USO tour.
Penned by Tubb and Redd Stewart, this song is about a soldier in World War II who writes his mother a letter that turns out to be his last communication with her. The singer’s recording of “Soldier’s Last Letter” became one of his best-known tunes. In 1970, Merle Haggard, who was a fan of Tubb’s, offered his own version to an audience that was dealing with the war in Vietnam. It was an instant hit all over again.
“There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere”
This song, released in 1942, has the honor of being one of the first war songs to catch the attention of music lovers all across the U.S. Written by Paul Roberts and Shelby Darnell, “There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” was so popular that it became one of the first platinum singles in country music. Its theme — that a flag would always be flown for those who lost their life in World War II — was a message of hope and inspiration for the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the war.
In this song released during the Vietnam War, Lynn took the side of the women left behind as their men went off to fight in battles that were, at the time, part of something not even called a war, but a conflict. The 1966 tune recounts how a wife loves her husband but understands that he must go and fight. In the end, when the husband is killed at war, the woman writes the president to ask what she is to do now that he is gone. “Dear Uncle Sam” was one of Lynn’s first original tunes to enter the Top 10 country singles chart.
Another song about Vietnam, this one was written 40 years after the fact, when John Rich and Big Kenny met Niles Harris, one of the men who survived the infamous 1965 battle after which “8th of November” is named. Harris inspired the duo to write about the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which lost 48 men that day when it was ambushed by more than 1,000 Viet Cong troops during Operation Hump in War Zone D. The song recounts Harris’ life, from when he joined the Army at the age of 19 to being shipped to Vietnam, the battle and its aftermath’s effect on his life. Released in 2006, the song received as much attention for its back story as much as for the recording itself.
This song’s most chilling lyric talks about the soldier, who is the voice of the tune, folding up a letter from his mother, picking up his gun and getting back to work. Written by Tony Lane and David Lee, “Letters From Home” was the title of Montgomery’s April 2004 album, on which the track appears. Soldiers’ letters are a real history of the war in which they were fighting, and this song’s letter would be a great one for historians to study, as it gives an overview of this soldier’s day. It’s probably just an average day for him, but as he describes it, the listener is allowed into some private moments of the men and women who fight for our freedom.
PT-109 was a boat cut in two by a Japanese destroyer ship off the Isle of Olasana in 1942. Future president John F. Kennedy, then a soldier on board the vessel, helped many of the crew get to safety. Marijohn Wilkin and Fred Burch put the tragedy of PT-109 into song, and Dean, a Country Music Hall of Famer who passed away in June 2010, recorded the tune in 1962. It became a popular song while Kennedy was president.
“Arlington” is a song about a soldier who has come home to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The soldier tells his story of being in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and how his daddy brought him to Arlington when he was young. Written by Dave Turnbull and Jeremy Spillman, the tune is from Adkins’ 2005 album Songs About Me and saw its share of controversy, even getting pulled from some station’s playlists. However, “Arlington” was still a Top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
This song, about the final battle of the War of 1812 (which actually took place in 1815), was written by a teacher named Jimmie Driftwood, who loved history and thought that if he wrote a poem about this battle, he might also get his students interested too. Driftwood recorded the song in 1958 but it was Horton’s 1959 version that caught the imagination of country fans around the U.S. The tune has also been recorded by Johnny Cash, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, among others. An additional interesting fact: Horton recorded the song in a slightly different version for release in Great Britain, exchanging the word “British” for “rebels” and making a few other minor tweaks.
Keith never hesitates to talk about his support of the men and women in the U.S. military. In this song, he and co-writer Chuck Cannon depict one soldier trying to keep it together while he’s at war. Just like the man back home who holds down a 9-to-5 job, this soldier has a wife and children he has to take care of, and the problems faced on the homefront are multiplied when in a war zone. “American Soldier” was released as the second single from Keith’s Shock’n Y’all album in 2003.