Belleau Wood++

Words and music copyright © 1997 by Joe Henry and Garth Brooks
Additions Creative Commons License 1997 by Jim Bearden

This is (IMO, of course) the best song Garth Brooks has done in a long time — in fact, one of his best ever. It is also interesting to note that this is the first direct link I have seen between John Denver (with whom Joe Henry wrote several songs) and Garth Brooks. Unfortunately, as I discovered after I posted this, thanks to an e-mail message I got from Master Sergeant James Keyes of the U.S. Marine Corps, the story described in the song is not true. As Sergeant Keyes informed me, and I verified from other sources, the battle of Belleau Wood was fought in June, 1918, and there were no signs of either snowflakes or a truce. At Christmas in 1917 (the only one in which U.S. Troops were involved), the front was far from there, and there seem to have been no Christmas truces observed anywhere that year, although there were some earlier in the war. The best-known one happened around Christmas 1914, on many sectors of the front around Ypres, Belgium, lasting several days in some sectors. No Americans were involved, since this was years before U.S. forces entered the war. The movie Joyeux Noël gives a great presentation of what really happened, and the consequences (mostly bad) for the people, like the mythical soldier in this song, who participated in the impromptu truce. It’s unfortunate the writers of this song didn’t stick to the facts (the real Christmas truce could have been the basis for just as good a song), because I still like the song. But it seemed to me that they had missed the obvious way to end it, so that’s what I’ve added here: an ending with “Silent Night”, in both German and English, just as the song describes — and “peace” as the final word.

Oh the snowflakes fell in silence over Belleau Wood that night,
For a Christmas truce had been declared by both sides of the fight.
As we lay there in our trenches, the silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing a song that we all knew.

Though I did not know the language, the song was “Silent Night”;
Then I heard my buddy whisper, “All is calm, and all is bright”.
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me ’cause I’d die if I was wrong;
But I stood up in my trench and I began to sing along.

Then across that frozen battlefield, another’s voice joined in,
Until one by one each man became a singer of the hymn.

Then I thought that I was dreaming, for right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier, ‘neath the falling flakes of white.
And he raised his hand and smiled at me as if he seemed to say:
Here’s hoping we both live to see us find a better way.

Then the devil’s clock struck midnight and the skies lit up again;
And the battlefield where heaven stood was blown to hell again.

But for just one fleeting moment the answer seemed so clear:
Heaven’s not beyond the clouds — It’s just beyond the fear.
No, heaven’s not beyond the clouds — It’s for us to find it here.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.
Alles schläft, einsam wacht.

                                                       Round yon virgin Mother and Child;
Holy Infant, so tender and mild.

Schlaf’ in himmlischer Ruh’ …
                                                        Sleep in heavenly peace.

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