10 Sad War Songs

Finding 10 sad war songs is harder than it might be. The task requires delving into the musical genres of Country and Celtic. Most of the rock and pop songs are anti-war in nature.

  1. “The Balled of the Green Beret.” If the lyrics are interpreted a little more literally, this is an extremely sad war song.  Just consider this line, “Fearless men who jump and die. A hundred men will test today/but only three win the green beret.”  Green Beret testing does not actually involve jumping from an airplane without a parachute.
  2. “Christmas in the Trenches.” John McCutcheon performed a version of this song that tells the story about the spontaneous truce that broke out between the Allies and the Germans during World War I.   The song is lengthy, but it tends to leave tears in people's eyes as the singer recounts the conditions on the Western front.
  3. Have You Forgotten?” by Daryl Worley. Technically, this is not so much a song about war as it is about America's reasons for going into Afghanistan and Iraq. The song evokes images of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center falling to the ground are evoked
  4. “Billy Don't Be A Hero.” A classic sad anti-war song about a soldier who goes off to war and the woman he leaves behind. Although he saves his unit, he ignores his girlfriend's advice. The woman tears up the letter at the end telling her that her boyfriend died a hero.
  5. “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” by Serj Tankian. The original version is a jaunty fight song from World War II.  Supposedly this is a true story that took place on the U.S.S. New Orleans. What makes Serj Tankian's version is he takes the lyrics completely out of context and makes it an anti-war song. What makes this a sad war song is the Tankian took the song so completely out of context.
  6. “The Sinking of the Reuben James” by The Weavers. A number of folk singers have covered this song.  The tale recounts the sinking of a destroyer off the coast of Iceland at the start of World War II.
  7. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” by The Band. Joan Baez and Johnny Cash did their own version of this song that recounts the end of the Civil War. Here, the sadness is conveyed through the story that involves loss of a lifestyle and the consequences of fighting for a cause.
  8. “The Minstrel Boy.” by Thomas Moore. Thomas Moore wrote this song after watching his friends die in an Irish revolt. The most interesting modern edition of this sad war song appears on the soundtrack of “Blackhawk Down.”
  9. “If You're Reading This” by Tim McGraw. The story may seem contrived, but the tale of the veteran who served in Vietnam echoes through the ages and reminds of us of what soldiers have sacrificed.
  10. “Danny Boy” -Traditional Scottish Melody. This sad war song captures the uncertainty of the people who soldiers leave behind when they go off to war. When the pipes, the trumpets, or even the recruiters are calling, we never know if a loved one who will answer their call will come back.
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