(Editor’s Note: CMT Greatest Patriotic Songs airs Saturday (July 2) at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)
“I hold it up and show my buddies, Like we ain’t scared and our boots ain’t muddy, but no one laughs, ‘Cause there ain’t nothing funny when a soldier cries … An’ it keeps me driving on, Waiting on letters from home.”
These powerful lyrics from John Michael Montgomery’s “Letters From Home” marched their way into the hearts of millions of Americans during Operation Iraqi Freedom. “These letters or e-mails, they’re like gold to these folks,” he says.
Montgomery is one of many country artists to come forward with patriotic songs during periods of turmoil and despair. Over time, these songs have eased the pain during times of war and turmoil in America, helping mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and even simply those in support of American troops better understand and express their love for the U.S.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, one country artist came forward with a song depicting not only what had happened to America in the recent year but delivered a message he felt America must always remember. Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten” served as a message of remembering the lives lost, the tears wept and the sense of pride felt when a country of different races and ethnicities stand as one.
“I’m thinking about … all the people that died trying to save people that were dying, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to write something in honor of those people,” Worley says. “And that’s how ‘Have You Forgotten?’ came along.”
Chely Wright says Worley’s love for America is revealed through his songwriting. “I know Darryl’s compassion for our troops and patriotism is true. He’s the kid that grew up on the Tennessee River, and he loves his country and he loves his family and biscuits on Sunday afternoon. He’s about as country as they come.”
Wright, who released the patriotic “The Bumper of My S.U.V.” in 2004, says these types of songs hit close to home. “It’s a family tradition for the men in my family to be in the military. All of my uncles were in on both sides, my mom and my dad’s side,” she says. Wright’s brother was a Marine for 15 years, and her grandfather served as a sailor in the Vietnam War.
While fighting in World War II, Ray Price was the only man within his 70-man regiment to walk away alive. He says one of the songs that stands out to him is “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere,” recorded by Elton Britt in 1942. Price says, “It’s a pretty song, and it was talking about patriotism and wanting to go fight. Everybody’s mood at that time was, ‘Let’s go fight,’ and they did.”
Moreover, Aaron Tippin showed his patriotic perspective with “Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagle Fly.” He says the song is simply about patriotism and the honor one has for his freedom and country. “And that’s cool to me when I get the chance to know that I’ve given [soldiers] something to hold on to. That’s a pretty neat feeling. That’s a bit of bragging, but yeah, that’s a pretty neat feeling,” he says.
Trace Adkins’ “Arlington,” written from the perspective of a fallen soldier, reveals the deep respect and honor for those who have lost their lives in battle. The chorus proudly proclaims, “I can rest in peace/I’m one of the chosen ones/I made it to Arlington.” Adkins feels the song pays tribute to those who fought until they died for their country. “The song is not for me. It’s not for my career. It’s not for any of those selfish, superficial reasons. It’s my way of saying thanks and paying tribute to people who did something that I didn’t do,” Adkins says.
One cannot mention patriotic songs in country music without thinking of Lee Greenwood’s ever-popular, “God Bless the U.S.A.” He says when he hears of soldiers using his song for inspiration, it’s a moving experience. “I’ve had so many soldiers tell me just before they were engaged in conflict they would have my song, ‘God Bless the U.S.A.,’ which reminds them of home.”
When he sings the opening line — “If tomorrow all the things were gone I worked for all my life” — Greenwood says it’s an overwhelming experience. “‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ said many things as a song,” he believes, “but most of all it said, ‘We’re proud that we’re American.'”