“Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?”
Woody Guthrie wrote these words in 1942 in his song about the USS Reuben James. The first American warship sunk in World War II; even before we were officially at war and five week before Pearl Harbor.
It was torpedoed in the North Atlantic while on convoy escort duty. The ship was sunk on 31 October, 1941– Hallows Eve and is one of the six missions in that book coming out this fall.
“Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names?”
That’s the refrain in the song. Guthrie wanted to list all the names of those lost with the ship in the song; but with over 100 men going down with her, it wasn’t practical.
He’s pictured to the left with his guitar and his infamous logo.
The captain of the Reuben James, Tex Edwards, was a 1926 Naval Academy graduate who’d wrestled in the 1928 Olympics, coming in fourth.
While the sinking caused outrage in the United States, we did not declare war on Germany. It took the disaster at Pearl Harbor to thrust the country into World War II.
I’m always amazed at the history I learn while researching. One of the great perks of being a writer!
Here’s to the good men of the Reuben James. As long as their names are remembered, a part of them lives on!
Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James
Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?
She flew the Stars and Stripes of the land of the free
But tonight she’s in her grave at the bottom of the sea.
Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names,
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?
What were their names, tell me, what were their names?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James
Well, a hundred men went down in that dark watery grave
When that good ship went down only forty-four were saved.
’Twas the last day of October we saved the forty-four
From the cold ocean waters and the cold icy shore.
It was there in the dark of that uncertain night
That we watched for the U-boats and waited for a fight.
Then a whine and a rock and a great explosion roared
And they laid the Reuben James on that cold ocean floor.
Now tonight there are lights in our country so bright
In the farms and in the cities they’re telling of the fight.
And now our mighty battleships will steam the bounding main
And remember the name of that good Reuben James.
Originally published at bobmayer.com on July 23, 2017.