Reuben James

"Disaster struck in the early morning hours of October 31, 1941. While escorting convoy HX-156, the American destroyer U.S.S. Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 115 of 160 crewmen, including all officers. Although not the first U.S. Navy ship torpedoed before the war, the Reuben James was the first one lost. After the news of the sinking reached America, many concerned people wrote letters to the Navy to find out the fate of friends or loved ones. Sadly, most of the country ignored the sinking. One who did not was folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote his now famous song immediately after the incident..."(photo and text from the National Archives A People At War)

photo of Woody Guthrie in uniform during World War II. He joined the Merchant Marine three times durng the war, each time his ship was torpedoed. In 1945 he was drafted into the Army for a few months, but never saw action. Here are the lyrics he wrote in 1941 after the sinking of DD-245 for his song , Sinking of the Reuben James

Have you heard of the ship called the good Reuben James?
Filled with hard fighting men, of honor and of fame
She flew the stars and stripes of the land of the free
Now she's in her grave at the bottom of the sea
Tell me what were their names,
tell me what were there names?
did you have a friend on the good reuben james?

It was there in the dark of that uncertain night
that we watched for the u-boat, and waited for the fight
the fire and the rock and the great explosions roar
and they laid the reuben james on the cold ocean floor
One hundred men went down to their dark watery grave
when that good ship went down only forty four were savrd
twas the last day of october that they saved forty four
from the cold icy water and the cold icy shore
Now there are lights in our country so bright
and in the farms and the villages their telling of the fight
Now our mighty battleships steam the bounding main
and remember the name of the good reuben james
(photo and lyrics from the Woody Guthrie page by David Arkush )


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