The Sinking of the Reuben James

This is a song Woody Guthrie wrote during World War II, prior to the United States' entry into the war but after the collapse of the Hitler-Stalin pact. It is a memorial to the American sailors killed the morning of October 31, 1941, when German U-boats sank the destroyer Reuben James which was engaged in convoying war matériel to Britain. Originally, Woody wrote a version which mentioned all the dead by name, but that version was never publicly performed. Sources vary as to the number killed (I've seen from 86 to 115 given, but the number of survivors is always 44 or 45). The tune is essentially that of the old American song Wildwood Flower, with a chorus added. I am posting them both here for comparative study purposes.
(Click here for Wildwood Flower)
The basic tune is in the public domain;
copyright in the original lyrics is held by Woody's
heirs and assigns. According to Joe Klein's biography of Woody,
the chorus is the work of Seeger and Lampell
so who knows what its copyright status is...

Have you heard of the ship called the good Reuben James,
Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and of 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?

One hundred men were drowned 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 icy waters off that cold Iceland 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
On 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 the good Reuben James.

Years later, Fred Hellerman of the Weavers (which recorded the song) added this verse:

Well, many years have passed since those brave men have gone
And those cold icy waters are still and they're calm.
Many years have passed, but still I wonder why
The worst of men must fight and the best of men must die.
Click for one-verse MIDI
Click for four-verse MIDI

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