Tag Archives: War Folklore

“Soldier’s Creed”

            An ROTC student, the informant recited the “Soldier’s Creed,” a pledge memorized by every member in the U.S. Army. At the University of Southern California, all ROTC students are taught the creed during their first enrolled semester and are required to have the creed memorized by graduation, though the informant stated that typically, those enlisted in the army learn the creed during basic training. Its purpose is to transition the individual from a civilian to a soldier―a representative of the complete psychological and emotional change in identity. The informant explained that the purpose of basic training, and its attachments like the Soldier’s Creed, is to psychologically break down the individual and rebuild him or her into the type of person the army desires.
            More personally, the informant views the creed as a life philosophy outside of purely the military setting, although he acknowledged that people can interpret it differently. He identifies particularly with a stanza referred to as the “Warrior Ethos” (which begins, “I will always place the mission first”) because it underlines the idea of identifying a goal and sticking to it. The informant also shared that, after officially signing his contract with the army in the fall, the creed took on additional significance―as he stated, it became “very real” to him.


I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.


            The Soldier’s Creed is highly evocative of folklorist Arnold van Gennep’s ideas surrounding rites of passage, which are typically used to mark the transition from one identity into another. The informant’s description of the “rebuilding” process is particularly relevant to this idea, and the Soldier’s Creed is a clear mechanism for that. It exhibits a pronounced use of the active present tense “am,” as well as the future tense “will,” while making no reference to the past. This shows how the soldier has transformed irrevocably into his new character.

            When examining the language of the Soldier’s Creed, the stress on collectivity is also noticeable: “[I am] a member of a team. . .I will never leave a fallen comrade.” This is quite interesting paired with structure of each sentence beginning with the highly individualistic “I.” The dualist presence of individualism as well as collective action suggests that both are valued in the right situations. Unsurprisingly, nationalism also plays a large role in the Soldier’s Creed, reinforcing the idea of the “other” as the enemy and the idea of the American as in need of protection.

“Thirteen Days to Immortality”

             The informant explained that most schoolchildren in San Antonio are familiar with a song written about the Texans’ final days at the Alamo Mission, where a group of Texan military leaders and their troops resisted the Mexican army’s assault for thirteen days before they were all killed. The song, “Thirteen Days to Immortality,” is incorporated into theatrical performances of the Alamo, namely the Phantom of the Alamo. It is a popular feature at annual school performances and at local summer camps. She acknowledged that the author is unknown and, while the song is sung to a medley of musical tunes from other folk songs, she couldn’t identify which ones.She did, however, note that while her parents were familiar with the song during their childhood, her grandparents had never encountered it, suggesting that it is a fairly recent folk song that has emerged over the last two generations.


Oh! What a beautiful sunrise,
Day Twelve is a wonderful day!
Texans all gather together
To find out who all wants to stay.
Travis and Crockett, Jim Bowie
Lead the men over the line.
One man decides it’s not worth it,
It’s not his time yet to die.


On Day Thirteen. . .everyone died.
All of the heroes who fought on both sides.
Take down the flag, honor the dead, isn’t it sad.
Everyone suffers the loss for those are bad.
Take down the flag, take down the flag.


            The song is clearly a children’s song, akin to one you might see taught in a history class to aid children in memorizing historical facts. It is sung to a cheery tune, and there is a heavy emphasis on the collective loss shared by both parties during wartime: “Everyone suffers the loss.” Moreover, the lyrics also recognize heroics in both the Texan and Mexican troops, introducing the values of equality and honor in fighting for one’s land. “Thirteen Days to Immortality” presents perhaps a more sympathetic angle than the legend of the Alamo itself, which antagonizes the Mexican troops as the aggressors and looks unfavorably upon those who flee from death in battle (the lone Texan who abandoned the Alamo was left cursed to haunt the Alamo). Instead, the lyrics mourn the lives of the fallen, calling the deaths “sad” and the deserter is receives no negative attention at all.

            Both “Thirteen Days to Immortality” and the historical legend of the Alamo illustrate examples of war-related folklore or, in this case, folk history.  The song, in particular, relies on a lexicon of war-related vocabulary, namely “hero,” “honor,” and “flag.” In this way, outside of the song’s lyrical content, the vocabulary is recognizable as being related to war texts and literature.