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Bill Doodle
Written May 23, 2009
Updated March 10, 2010

 

Let me tell you about an inconsequential little poem I wrote nearly half a century ago, in 1965.  But in order to do so, I need first to flash back an additional century.

Sevenscore and seven years ago, this nation was engaged in a great civil war.  The struggle would ultimately lead to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  You remember that one:  “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

Early in that war, not enough soldiers volunteered to serve in the Union army.  Therefore — ironically — President Lincoln imposed involuntary servitude!  Lincoln considered it “calling forth the militia” as provided in Article I, Section 8.  Nevertheless, he was ordering peaceful citizens, not convicted of any crime, to perform military service against their will.

The result:  draft riots in New York and dozens of protest songs, including this rather lighthearted one by Henry C. Work (1862).  In it, the government has taken a widowed Mrs. Malaprop's only surviving boy away from her and made him wear a “unicorn.” 

Our Jimmy has gone for to live in a tent;
     They have grafted him into the army.
He finally pucker’d up courage and went
     When they grafted him into the army.
I told them the child was too young, alas!
At the captain’s forequarters, they said he would pass;
They’d train him up well in the infantry class, 
     So they grafted him into the army.

Oh Jimmy, farewell!  Your brothers fell
     Way down in Alabarmy;
I thought they would spare a lone widder’s heir,
     But they grafted him into the army.

And now let us move forward a century.  Until the draft was discontinued by President Nixon in 1973, it was an unfortunate fact of life for my generation.  The government arbitrarily deprived young men of their rights and liberties, conscripting them to fight in Viet Nam — regardless of their aptitude for the role.  I suppose it was necessary.

But as a peacefully inclined person myself, instinctively avoiding danger, I never understood why anyone would willingly volunteer for military service.

I'm glad there are brave Americans who do want to put themselves in harm's way to protect those of us at home.  But for me, signing up for the army would have been like offering to go to prison.  There I would serve a sentence of six months at hard labor:  that would be the humiliation and exhaustion of basic training.  Next would come two years of wandering through a forbidding jungle as the human target of heavily-armed hunters.  If by chance I survived, I might be pardoned and allowed to come home, but I would be emotionally scarred for life.  That was not for me; I would never volunteer, and I hoped I wouldn't be "grafted."

Now you have part of the background of the little poem below.

The other part involves the Ohio Music Education Association.  Every spring, Richwood High School loaded most of its musicians onto a couple of school buses and sent us to the OMEA’s annual District 10 Solo and Ensemble Contest.

On Saturday, March 13, 1965, we traveled 60 miles southwest to Miami East High School.  I was one of five pianists from Richwood.  Most of us had rarely seen a grand piano, but that's what we would be playing at the contest.

My selection as a Class A piano soloist was the Rhapsody in G Minor of Johannes Brahms, Opus 79, Number 2.  I received a II rating (out of IV).  So did half of our solo performers that year.

While memorizing the Brahms piece, I rehearsed it daily.  Today, 44 years out of practice, I can no longer play it properly.  However, here is a YouTube performance by someone who can.  And notice the adjudicator, following along in the score and making critical notes, as Richard Lehman of Capital University did with me.

In the late winter of 1965, practicing the Rhapsody over and over, I couldn’t resist inventing words to fit the ever-present music.  The words arose from my question, “Why would anyone willingly enlist in the military?”

Here are the lyrics.  The times refer to the YouTube performance.

0:00

One sunny day
  one glorious May,
Bill Doodle joined the Army.
His sweetheart Sue,
  what could she do?
She cried, “You do alarm me!”

The Army?!
Bill Doodle joined
   the cavalry.  He joined
The Army!

He planned to gallop off that day,
   but then his Sue did say:

0:29

“You might be killed!
     Darling Bill, don’t go.
You might be killed!
     Darling Bill, don’t go.
Please stay with me,
     Where it’s safe and
     Where we have each other.
     Please stay here with me.
Don’t go to war, Bill,
     Please stay here with me.
Don’t go to war!
     You might be killed!
          Stay here with me!”

0:45

But Bill said,
“I must go!”
But Bill said,
“I must go!”
Yes, Bill said,

“I must go to war,
I must go ... to ... war.”

0:54

Yes, Bill said,
“I must go!”
Yes, Bill said,
“I must go!”
For, he said, 

“I am called by Honor and Duty to go.  Yes,
I am called by Honor and Duty to go
   to war, to war, to war!”

1:11

One rainy day
  one dismal May,
Bill Doodle joined the Army.
His sweetheart Sue,
  what could she do?
She cried, “You do alarm me!”

A stallion!
He chose to ride
   from thence astride
A stallion!

But ere he galloped off that day,
   once more his Sue did say:

1:40

“You might be killed!
     Darling Bill, don’t go.
You might be killed!
     Darling Bill, don’t go.
Please stay with me,
     Where it’s safe and
     Where we have each other.
     Please stay here with me.
Don’t go to war, Bill,
     Please stay here with me.
Don’t go to war!
     You might be killed!
          Stay here with me!”

1:56

Though he'd said,
“I must go,”
Though he'd said,
“I must go,”
Nonetheless

Bill would never fight!
He was seized with fright.

2:04

Yes, he'd said,
“I must go.”
Yes, he'd said, 
“I must go.”
However,

Whereupon the foe’s forces seeing,
Bill at once would swiftly be fleeing.

2:22

But what of Sue?
  She never knew
What Bill went through
  and had to do
To learn to fight.
  And yet his fright
Of sabers bright,
  and guns, and night,
     remained.

2:41

(instrumental development, while we meditate on how Bill once had heard Honor and Duty summon him to fight his country's battles)

3:33

Now please don’t think
  that Bill would shrink
From killing or
  from waging war
As long as he
  quite sure could be
That he would not
  himself be shot,

3:51

Or stabbed,
   or speared.
These things
   he feared.
Though cheerfully he’d kill his brother,
Risking his own neck was another
     thing!

4:13

(instrumental cadence)

4:26

Then one bright day
   that glorious May,
Bill gallantly deserted!
He rode back home,
   no more to roam,
All dangers now averted.

The Army?!
Haha, haha,
   haha, haha, haha!
The Army?

He said to Sue,
   “I say to you,
      The Army's one ... big ... bore!

4:55

“They don't need me!
   They have men to spare.
They don't need me!
   They have plenty there.
I'll stay with you,
   Darling Sue, for we
      can be together now, and
I'll stay with you.
I'll never leave again;
   I'll stay with you.
I'll never leave.
   This is my home.
      I'll stay with you!”

5:16

Bill was done with war.
He would fight no more.     

5:21

Welcome 'im home!  All hail the conqu'ring hero!
Welcome him, for he has conquered war!

5:24

Fighting was a bore
   to this excellent soldier.
Bill would fight no more,
   for he had had his fill
      of war.

5:40

He would fight no more,
   for Bill would go to war —
      no more!

 

TBT

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The artwork is from the cover of a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé Suite