10 Great Country Music Songs About World War II

A Camel Caravan “cigarette girl” distributes sample packs of Camels to troops on tour. (Grand Ole Opry)

Ken Burns' epic "Country Music" series is airing on PBS, and the documentary devotes a good chunk of time to the World War II era and how soldiers from the South helped introduce what had been a regional music to the rest of America.

As the United States prepared for war, country music stars from the Grand Ole Opry toured military bases as part of the Camel Caravan and introduced troops from all over the United States to sounds that had previously been popular only in the South.

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After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, country music artists became some of the military's biggest supporters and recorded a slew of patriotic songs in support of the war effort. Here are 10 classic country songs about World War II.

1. Elton Britt, "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere"

Elton Britt's song was the biggest country music hit of the era, selling over one million copies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even asked the singer to perform the song for him at the White House.

In the song, a wounded soldier wishes he could get back to the battlefield to fight alongside his brothers and possibly find himself a place in a heaven reserved for brave warriors who die in battle.

"There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere" is featured in "Country Music."

2. Gene Autry, "At Mail Call Today"

There was nothing better for a lonely soldier than a mail call, and there was nothing worse than one that delivered a "Dear John" letter from a sweetheart back home.

Gene Autry's career is highlighted in "Country Music," and the show plays "At Mail Call Today."

3. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, "Smoke on the Water"

Written by Red Foley, "Smoke on the Water" was first a Top 10 hit for Foley and later a No. 1 hit for Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys in 1945. The song predicts the destruction of the Axis Powers, with a special emphasis on Japan's coming downfall, and features a hot Noel Boggs steel guitar solo.

Wills' recording of "Smoke on the Water" is featured in "Country Music."

4. Tex Ritter, "There's a Gold Star in Her Window"

John Ritter's dad was a successful actor in singing cowboy pictures and had a big hit with this sentimental song, which he wrote, about a mom who knows her son who died in action will be waiting for her in heaven.

5. Patsy Montana, "Goodnight, Soldier"

The Arkansas-born "Cowboy's Sweetheart" recorded with Sons of the Pioneers but is best known for her solo recordings. Her love song to a boyfriend serving overseas offered reassurance and hope to anyone fearing the kind of "Dear John" letter that Gene Autry was singing about.

6. Ernest Tubb, "A Soldier's Last Letter"

The Texas Troubadour was the king of songs about soldiers. He recorded them during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Ernest Tubb loved the troops, and soldiers loved his flat, unaffected, plainspoken singing.

RELATED: Ken Burns Tells an Epic Story of Modern America in 'Country Music'

"A Soldier's Last Letter" was originally composed by Redd Stewart, who was drafted into the Army after Pearl Harbor and wrote the tune while stationed in the South Pacific. Tubb punched it up, and his recording went to No. 1 on the country charts, then crossed over and went Top 20 on the pop charts.

Merle Haggard recorded a version that went to No. 4 on the country charts in 1970 during the Vietnam War.

7. Floyd Tillman, "Each Night at Nine"

Western swing pioneer Floyd Tillman's "Each Night at Nine" was a hit in two different ways. The song about the way a soldier remembers his sweetheart back home was a No. 4 country hit on the homefront and was in constant rotation on enemy propaganda radio shows hosted by Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose.

Did the song encourage desertion or just steel the resolve of our fighting men to speed up the war so they could get back home? We all know the answer to that one.

8. Eddy Arnold, "Did You See My Daddy Over There?"

The Singing Tennessee Plowboy brought a smoother singing style to country music, and this 1945 single (only his third release) suggested just how much the genre was going to change in the 1950s.

A young boy encounters a soldier wearing a Purple Heart and wonders if, by chance, the man might have met his father while serving in France? The war separated families for years and, even though this song didn't chart, the single spoke to a real issue: A generation of kids barely knew their fathers because they'd been off serving their country.

9. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, "Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima"

The records may sound tame to modern ears, but the Texas Playboys represent a musical revolution on par with Elvis, The Beatles or Nirvana. They seamlessly merged jazz, hillbilly music and pop to create an explosive sound that captivated club audiences during the era.

Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning Iwo Jima photo also went off like a bomb in American culture and was the obvious inspiration for this hit record.

10. Johnny Bond & His Red River Valley Boys, "I'm a Pris'ner of War (On a Foreign Shore)"

This 1942 single asks Americans to remember the soldiers captured by the enemy. Anyone who's seen "Unbroken" or read prisoner of war memoirs from WWII will recognize that Bond's tune downplays the daily horrors faced by our captured troops.

Johnny Bond's career took off after the war and, though mostly forgotten today (including by Ken Burns in his documentary), he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.

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