I was looking into the music of lyricist Joe Henry recently in conjunction with writing a post on the Gary Burr cd, "Lime Creek". Best known for his song writing collaborations with John Denver, Joe co-wrote all the songs with Gary on Lime Creek. He also wrote a song with Garth Brooks about a Christmas Day truce during World War I. The song was "Belleau Wood", the last track on Garth's "Sevens" album. During the night of the truce with the snow falling over the men in their trenches, a German soldier began singing a song the Americans recognized as "Silent Night". They stood up and joined in the singing. But once the clock struck midnight, all hell broke loose again.
Did this touching story in "Belleau Wood" actually happen? I can believe that it did. Soldiers stressed out and weary of all the death and destruction could certainly be looking for consolation in a Christmas hymn and even enemies could be brought together in song by their common human needs. I know of an event that actually did occur during a Christmas truce and it also led to a soldier breaking out in song.
On Christmas Day of 1968 in Viet Nam there was a truce. My unit, Charlie Company of the 1st Battallion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) was somewhere out in the boonies north of Saigon. Since we were away from our temporary base with its bunkers and concertina wire as well as artillery and mortar support, we had set up a defensive perimeter for the day. A week earlier our company lost a few very good men killed in an ambush so this truce was especially welcome. Our leaders wisely decided not to count on a silent night. The men at each position took turns at guard duty and LP's - Listening Posts - were sent out just before dark.
Each Listening Post consisted of 3 men who alternated on guard. There were generally four LP positions, roughly equidistant outside the perimeter and 100 meters beyond it. Each position was equipped with a PRC-25 radio, fondly known as the "prick 25". The purpose was to provide early warning of a possible attack. When we first joined the company, we were warned about the dangers of falling asleep on guard. A story was told of an LP who fell asleep and woke up to find his two guard buddies with their throats slit.
That Christmas night, one of the LP's fell asleep. The company RTO - radio operator - kept trying to contact the position, repeating "LP1, LP1, if you have a negative sitrep (situation report), break squelch twice". (The LP was supposed to hit the squelch button on the radio rather than talk so as not to give away his position.) The sergeant in the command post was not happy. If there was no response, someone would have to go out and check on the status of the position. The entire perimeter would have to be alerted that one of our own was going out so that he wouldn't be mistaken for an enemy.
At my squad's position, I'm monitoring my radio and thinking please God, I hope it's just that someone fell asleep, when over the radio I heard one of the guys from another position start to sing. To the tune of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", he sang "In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle, the LP Sleeps Tonight". Since the sarge in the CP immediately expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms, I didn't get to hear any more of the song. Luckily, there were no violations of the truce that day, at least in our area of operations.
The most famous version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is by the Tokens. According to Songfacts.com, the song hit the top of the charts 50 years ago, during the 1961 Christmas holidays. The Lion song has an interesting history going back to the 1930's so if you want to learn more, get googling.