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“When our boys have crossed the ocean. There to die in No Man’s Land
Oh, what true and brave devotion. As we see them take their stand.
We will pray for their returning. And we’ll keep the home fires burning;
We will one and all be true. While our boys are nobly dying
For the flag. Red, White and Blue.”
During World War I, Owen County hymn writer the Rev. J.A. Lee composed the lyrics and music to this song and titled it “Our Boys.” It was dedicated to the young men of Owen County who heeded the call to serve their country during that conflict.
The importance of music in war cannot be over emphasized. Songs were morale boosters, not only for those who fought in the battles, but for the folks at home whose pent-up fears were soothed by the strands of patriotic music.
For the troops, singing was not only a recreational activity but it relieved the tension that came with fighting.
In camp, music was a diversion away from the bloodshed and helped the soldiers deal with homesickness and boredom. During the Civil War, bands from both sides of the conflict would play against each other on the night before a battle. At times, whole songs were played on the battlefield.
Survivors of the disastrous Pickett’s Charge returned under the tune of “Nearer My God To Thee.” One Northern commander ordered his musicians to “play anything” at the Battle of Williamsburg. Their music rallied the Union forces and forced the Confederates to withdraw.
According to Mariam Houchens in her book “History of Owen County, Kentucky,” the year before America entered WWI, many Owen countians were more concerned with local affairs.
In 1916, a group of Baptist church leaders visited the town board to urge that measures be taken to stop cursing on the streets, spitting on sidewalks and loafing around Owenton during school hours by school-age boys.
The Owenton Rotary Club celebrated its first anniversary as they gathered at the Clark-St. Nicholas Hotel and J.W. Clark, a salesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., was severely injured in an automobile wreck.
These happenings took a back seat when America entered the war and patriotic fervor took hold in every community of the county.
A June 1917 issue of the News-Herald listed Allen Cammack as the first Owen County youth to enlist. He was 18-years-old. Other early volunteers included Howard Smith, J.T. Walker, W.E. Walker, Elliott Orr, Noa Gayle, Walter Scott and John Herndon Jr.
It wasn’t long before many others joined, and tearful mothers, fathers, friends and relatives proudly waved them off.
J.B. Head wrote the following admonition, “Look out! Bill Kaiser, For the Owen County boys are coming - Goodby Autocracy! For old Owen has spoke your doom.”
At times, above the din of battle, a song could be heard reverberating among the troops. Every army in every war had their favorites. Some may still recall these popular tunes of WWI: “Oh, How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning,” “Over There,” “K-K-K-Katy,” and “Good-bye Ma, Good-bye Pa, Good-bye Mule with yer old Hee-Haw.”
It once was said that music was the equivalent of “a 1,000 men” on one’s side. Songs of war were passed from generation to generation. American soldiers would continue to sing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII. Stories of war and the songs they embraced serve as a piece of the legacy we leave to our descendants.
The historical society museum is planning a new exhibit which will reflect Owen County and its people during WWI.
If anyone has a picture or item they would like to loan for this exhibit, please call us at 484-2529.
Don’t forget Big Jim’s Spaghetti Dinner on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14 at the I.O.O.F. Hall. Dinner hours are 5-6:30 p.m. so bring your Valentine and enjoy an evening of delicious food and entertaining conversation with our special dinner guest Nelson Doyle. Mr. Doyle will be portraying President Abraham Lincoln and will be present a program at 7 p.m. This should prove to be an enjoyable evening even for Confederate sympathizers.