“Whenever and wherever Americans gather, there you hear Americans singing, because America is a singing nation.”
This is the stirring introduction to a recording of patriotic music from the Oct. 27, 1945, launching celebration of the SS Bent's Fort, the last tanker built in the Kaiser Swan Island Shipyards in Portland, Oregon, under the wartime contract.
“Song of the Victory Fleet” is performed by “The Singing Sentinels,” four Oregon Shipbuilding Company security guards (Del Von Zuethen, Chuck Faris, John “Ken” Rogers and Mel Gordon) who provided entertainment at ship launchings and other events. [i]
After the war they continued as the “Kaiser-Frazer Singing Sentinels” at the Willow Run automobile plant in Michigan. [ii]
We'll build and sail ‘em — We'll never fail ‘em!
The Victory Fleet will be complete we know.
On every ocean, we'll be in motion,
The Victory Fleet will soon defeat the foe.
We'll have a bridge of ships beyond compare,
We'll soon be able to walk from here to over there.
The world is cheering! The skies are clearing!
With the Victory Fleet — Let’s go.
“Song of the Victory Fleet”
words and music by
Leonard Whiteup, 1942 (1903-1979)
“Song of the Victory Fleet” was first performed May 22, 1942, at the initial wartime observance of National Maritime Day.
It was dedicated to the U.S. Maritime Commission, and immediately adopted as theirs.
Congress established National Maritime Day in 1933 to honor our country’s role in marine transportation; at the time the Merchant Marine was quite small. But that all changed with World War II .
Absent from this recording is the interlude:
In the fact’ries hear the hammers night and day.
In the shipyards everyone is on his way.
On the ocean every seaman joins the fray.
We heard the bugles blow! We answered our country’s call!
We’re ready one and all!
Journalist Peter Edson, writing his column for the Times Daily, had this to say when the song premiered:
“The song is one of those rousing sea chanteys that even a landlubber building lifeboats in Kokomo can limber up his larynx on and get a belt out of bellowing or barber shopping.
"And when you accompany the tune with full orchestration and sound effects of riveting hammers, clanking anchor chains and the blowing of full-lunged baritone and bass steamship whistles — matey, it does something to your morale.
“Morale building is the big idea behind observance of Maritime Day this year and this whole shipping program is something to give your spine a tingle. It isn’t just something to celebrate on salt water, either, with maybe the Great Lakes thrown in for good measure.
"There will be big celebrations in the 60 shipyards where, on some 300 ways, ocean-going ships are under construction.”
After the war, celebrations of service focused on those in the military, and merchant mariners were left out of the festivities. Maritime Day ceased, but in 1970 the Maritime Administration resurrected this observance of honoring veterans of the merchant marine and those who gave their lives in service to the United States. That observance has been held every year since then.
Hear the Singing Sentinels perform “Song of the Victory Fleet”
[i] Article on the Singing Sentinels, http://weirdportland.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-singing-sentinels.html
[ii] Article in Saline (MI) Observer 3/20/1947