Ballad of Rodger Young

The Ballad of Rodger Young is an American war song by Frank Loesser, written and first performed during World War II in March 1945. The ballad is an elegy for Army Private Rodger Wilton Young, who died after rushing a Japanese machine-gun nest on 31 July 1943,[1] and is largely based on the citation for Young's posthumous Medal of Honor.

The Ballad of Rodger Young
File:The Ballad of Rodger Young (West Point Cadet Glee Club 1959).ogg
Performed by the West Point Cadet Glee Club, 1959.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Writing and composition

Loesser wrote the Ballad of Rodger Young while enlisted as a private in the Army's Radio Production Unit, a unit staffed with top Hollywood talent and equipped with a dedicated orchestra, whose task it was to produce two radio recruiting shows a day.[2] There, Loesser was charged with editing song sheets[3] and writing songs designed to aid in recruitment.[4] How Loesser came about to write the song is not entirely clear.[5] There is some agreement among sources that the Army asked Loesser to write, in his daughter's words, "a 'proper' infantry song", but according to others the request came from E. J. Kahn Jr., an infantry public relations officer and friend of Loesser's.[6][7]

Loesser decided to write the song about a Medal of Honor recipient, so he obtained a list of awardees and searched them for a name that would scan.[8] After dismissing many "wonderfully unwieldy melting-pot names",[7] Loesser found "the perfect WASP name"[9] at the end of the list: Rodger Young. Later, when the Army mounted a publicity campaign for the song, Loesser was asked for background material. As it would not have been politic to say that he chose Rodger Young simply because the name sounded well, Loesser agreed to publish a fictitious story about how he was told of Young's musical experience by the noted harmonica player Larry Adler.[2][8]

Recording history and reception

The Ballad, sung by Earl Wrightson with only a guitar accompaniment, was first broadcast in early 1945 in the radio program of Meredith Willson.[10] The song was apparently considered unlikely to become commercially popular initially, as Burl Ives recorded it only on the B side of his hit single The Foggy, Foggy Dew.[11] The Ballad does not appear on any charts and there is therefore no concrete evidence for its actual popularity.[11][12] According to World War II veteran and historian Paul Fussell, the song "proved too embarrassing for either the troops or the more intelligent home folks to take to their hearts."[13]

But several events gave the song, according to William and Nancy Young, a "much-needed boost":[12] LIFE magazine devoted pages 111 to 117 of its March 5, 1945 issue to Rodger Young and Loesser's ballad, also reproducing the sheet music, and the Army created the Combat Infantry Band specifically to play the Ballad.[12][14] The return of Rodger Young's body to the U.S. for burial in 1949 accelerated interest in the ballad again, with "best-selling" recordings of it being made by "a host of singers" before the end of the year,[10] including Burl Ives, Nelson Eddy and John Charles Thomas.[2]

Consequently, several writers attest to the song being well-received both during and after the war. John Bush Jones writes that this "singularly moving", "simple but affecting song"[14] "had a powerful impact on Americans at the time".[11] M. Paul Holsinger notes that Wrightson's recording became one of the most requested songs of the war years. And according to then Army bandsman Frank F. Mathias, it became "the best loved theme" for American infantrymen.[15]


While Loesser's melody emulates folksong,[6] a normally pacific genre, the text of the song unapologetically glorifies military valor. About this, Loesser once commented: "You give [the folks at home] hope without facts; glory without blood. You give them a legend with the rough edges neatly trimmed."[13] Despite its overt militarism, the text has been noted for its "narrative detachment and absence of sentimentality",[11] as well as its "poignant urgency."[16]

The lyrics are reproduced here in the form they were first published in Life, with minor changes in capitalization and punctuation.[17]

See also



External links

  • The short film ]
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.