Why do we sing in formation?

marching troops sing in formation
Segregated Troops marching while they sing in formation. Photo courtesy U.S. Army

You can thank Pvt. Willie Duckworth.

The tech manual for marching is FM 3-21.5 (FM 22-5 for you old farts), and it says:

Sing In Formation

“To enable soldiers to learn or maintain cadence and develop rhythm, the instructor should have them count cadence while marching. a. To count cadence while marching at quick time, the instructor gives the preparatory command, Count Cadence, as the left foot strikes the marching surface, and the command of execution, COUNT, the next time the left foot strikes the marching surface. The soldier begins to count the next time the left foot strikes the marching surface and counts as each foot strikes the marching surface—ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR; ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR. To count cadence while double-timing, the procedures are basically the same, except the soldier only counts each time the left foot strikes the marching surface. To maintain cadence when marching, soldiers will be allowed to sing, or a drummer’s beat may provide cadence.”

Singing songs while marching is to keep the formation in unison, it took Willie to put it to a tune in a segregated US Army of 1944. In a recent NPR article author Richard Rath, says “slaves brought work songs here, and they developed to help deal with dangerous jobs.” According to Ed Grisamore, and Army historian, “Duckworth was raised by his grandparents in a sharecropper’s house. He was working in a sawmill when he was drafted during World War II and assigned to a provisional training center at Fort Slocum, N.Y.”

A popular version of the “Duckworth Chant goes:”

“Ain’t no use in goin’ home.
Jody’s got your gal and gone.
Sound off!
One, two.
Sound off!
Three, four …

On his 78th birthday, Mr. Duckworth noted that “the chant came from calling hogs at home.”

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Dan Elder
Military Programs at milMedia Group
Dan is a leadership coach, management consultant, and change agent who has mentored hundreds of leaders at all levels. A retired Command Sergeant Major with more than 26-years serving soldiers and their families, he has deployments to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq. Dan's culminating assignment was as the senior enlisted advisor of a major Army Command (USAMC) and as the Army's senior enlisted sustainer. He served on the Sergeant Major of the Army's Board of Directors and is author, editor or advisor to a number of soldier-related books and articles. Working as an independent consultant and small-business owner in Killeen TX, Dan continues to serve soldiers as a Blogger, Podcaster and Speaker. He was selected as the first enlisted Senior Fellow for the Association of the United States Army and was inducted to the US Army Sergeants Major Academy Wall of Fame, and the US Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame

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