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September 5: Army Song Book, World War I

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North Dakota sent many of its sons to fight in World War I. Some called it the “War to End All Wars,” though it was not.

In the spirit of patriotism, young men across the state joined the military to help win the “Great War.” The recruits, 31,269 in number, came from all corners of the state.

Interestingly, when North Dakota’s recruits got to basic training, the U.S. offered each one an Army Songbook, music to inspire patriotism and heroism. As Shakespeare wrote:

“The spirit-stirring drum,
The ear-piercing fife,
the royal banner;
and all quality,
Pride, pomp and circumstance
Of glorious war!”

It was on this date, in 1917, that the Grand Forks Herald reported news about the distribution of “standard song” books at Army training-camps.

The first songbooks were sold for 15 cents apiece, but, by 1918, a “recognition of the power of music” had grown, so an Army Song Book was given free of cost to “all Officers and Men in the Army.”

Most Americans believed that “a singing man is a fighting man,” for music helped lift morale for soldiers, “to encourage, embolden and support” them on the grim battlefields of Europe.

The songbooks featured patriotic melodies---“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Dixie,” and “The Battle Cry of Freedom.”

There were hymns, of course – “Abide With Me,” and “Nearer, My God to Thee,” because, as they say, there were “no atheists in foxholes,” with death always lurking nearby.

A favorite song, on page 40, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” brought loud ‘hurrahs,” and hopes of a “hearty welcome” to soldier’s hearts upon their eventual homecomings.

George M. Cohan’s “Over There,” provided inspiration that the “Yanks Are Coming,” across the wide Atlantic to the battle fronts; and the pledge was that “We won’t come back till it’s over, over there.”

Indeed, by November, 1918, the war WAS over and many returned to their hometowns.

But some North Dakotans never came home. 1,305 of them perished in the bitter times of World War I.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM Professor of History

“Standard Song Book Issued To Soldiers,” Grand Forks Herald, September 5, 1917, p. 10.
“Government Is To Furnish Song Books For S.A.T.C. Men,” Grand Forks Herald, November 13, 1918, p. 10.
“Music and War,” Minneapolis Tribune, September 23, 1917, p. 54.
“The Bells of Hell Ring For Kaiser Bill Hohenzollern,” Grand Forks Herald, September 7, 1917, p. 6.
“Denatured Song Book Is Ready For Army And Navy,” Grand Forks Herald, November 1, 1917, p. 4.
“Army and Navy Song Book Reaches Men in Camps,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 5, 1917, p. 16.
Frank S. Kennett, “Song Book Included in WW I Army Kit,” Dunn County News [Menomonie, WI], December 9, 2001, p. 13.
Samuel Weller Singer, The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare, Vol. X (Chiswick: Charles Whittingham, College House, 1826), p. 444, from Othello.
War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities, Army Song Book, U.S. (Washington, D.C.: War Department, 1918), p. 3, 5, 25, 39, 40, 75, 79.
Total numbers listed in D. Jerome Tweton and Theodore B. Jelliff, North Dakota: The Heritage of a People (Fargo: N.D. Institute for Regional Studies, 1983), p. 146.
"Brothers Meet Here First Since in Paris," Ward County Farmers Press, October 30, 1919, p. 1; "'Devil Dog' Returns From France," Ward County Independent, August 21, 1919, p. 1; "Former Students," The Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota, volume 10, number 1, October 1919, pages 228, 239-241.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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