Top 10 Memorial Day Songs
Country music has the power to help us heal a broken heart and cope with some of life's unfair circumstances. In this list of the Top 10 Memorial Day songs, we spotlight the tender lyrics in songs like "Some Gave All" that honor those that have given the ultimate sacrifice, and "More Than a Name on a Wall" that express the feelings of friends and family members that experience the heartbreaking tragedy of losing a loved one.
Vince Gill started this melodic eulogy titled "Go Rest High on That Mountain" after the death of his friend, country singer Keith Whitley. Gill didn’t finish the song until the passing of his brother, a few years later. Backed by Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless, this 1995 Grammy-winning Song of the Year is a majestic tribute to the celebration of life and the inevitable feelings of sadness when it comes to an end. This song has also helped heal the hearts of families who have lost loved ones in uniform.
In 1966, Staff Sergeant of US Army Special Forces Barry Sadler recorded a respectable tribute, "Ballad of the Green Berets," that marched to No. 2 on the country music charts. In a time when most singers were painting a negative picture of the military, Sadler proudly honored America’s troops with these words: “Put silver wings on my son's chest / Make him one of America's best / He'll be a man they'll test one day / Have him win the Green Beret.” Co-writer Robin Moore turned the lyrics into a non-fiction book, and later, the song was used in the 1968 John Wayne film The Green Berets.
From the 2005 album Comin' to Your City, Big and Rich honored the story of Veteran Niles Harris with "8th of November." On Nov. 8, 1965, Harris and the 173rd Airborne Brigade were ambushed in Vietnam. Sadly, 48 American soldiers lost their lives that day. However, medic Lawrence Joel, the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War, was honored for saving several lives during that battle. Niles Harris was one of the lucky ones Joel saved that day.
Radney Foster says that "Angel Flight" was written “about those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the air crew who fly them home. The military call those flights 'Angel Flights,' and I’m honored to tell their story.” The haunting lyrics of this 2010 recording take us on an unforgettable journey: “I fly that plane called the Angel Flight / Gotta hero riding with us tonight/ Between heaven and earth you’re never alone /on the Angel Flight / Come on brother I’m taking you home.”
In 2005, Trace Adkins sang a tribute to the soldiers who now rest in peace in Arlington National Cemetery. The somber lyrics are delivered from the perspective of a proud fallen soldier who now lies in that white row of heroes: “I never thought that this is where I’d settle down / I thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown / They gave me this plot of land / me and some other men, for a job well done.” Although the single did not speak out against the war, some families of active military felt uncomfortable with the story and were offended by the assumption of what a dead soldier might think. After much consideration, Adkins stopped promoting the single to radio.
After reading an article on war casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tim McGraw and the Warren Brothers set out to write a tribute. "If You’re Reading This" is performed as if the family is reading the last letter written by a loved one who is killed in the line of duty. McGraw sang the song on the 2007 ACM Awards, and shortly after, radio stations began to add the song to their play lists. Surprisingly, without any initial promotion or solicitation from Curb Records, the song made its way to the Top 5 of the Billboard Country Music charts.
In 2002, George Jones included "50,000 Names" on his album The Rock: Stone Cold Country. The Country Music Hall of Famer delivers the haunting description of visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with perfection. After one listen, you can sense the great loss and the pain their families and friends endure to this day. Even more painful is knowing that there were actually 58,000 casualties and 153,000 wounded during the Vietnam War. The tearful tribute was penned by songwriting legend Jamie O'Hara.
The message of Memorial Day is heard loud and clear in Lee Greenwood’s "God Bless the U.S.A." In the 1984 hit, Greenwood belts out “I'm proud to be an American / Where at least I know I'm free / And I wont forget the men who died / Who gave that right to me” in one of America’s favorite patriotic songs. He wrote the song after his 1983 CMA win for Male Vocalist of the Year, and in 1985 the song won a CMA for Song of the Year. With its timeless, uniting message, the song has been re-released and re-recorded several times.
In 1992, Billy Ray Cryus took the nation by storm with his hit single "Achy Breaky Heart," which was featured on his best-selling album Some Gave All. The title track peaked at a modest No. 52 on the country charts, but has become a fan favorite honoring those that give the ultimate sacrifice. Cyrus wrote the song in 1989 after a visit with a Vietnam veteran. In 2011, due to the timeless message, he re-recorded the tune for his 2011 patriotic album I’m American. The new version features guest appearances from Army vet Craig Morgan, Marine Corp Reserve Jamey Johnson and U.S.O favorite Darryl Worley.
The Statler Brothers' Jimmy Fortune was inspired to write this tribute after a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. "More Than a Name on a Wall" became the final Statler Brothers song to reach the Top 10 of the Billboard country charts in 1989. Fortune says, “The spirit of the place will overwhelm you. I was standing there with soft music playing in the background. I was actually seeing a woman laying down flowers and tracing a name. All this stuff was playing out in my mind and this profound statement kept coming up in my head: They are more than a name on a wall.’