Last night I couldn’t sleep and I was changing channels and saw the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” with James Cagney playing the great composer, writer and performer George M. Cohan. I knew some of this man’s work, but the movie just really inspired me and brought forth what a great American he truly was. At an early age he began performing with his family on Vaudeville and he went on to have some of the most successful musicals of all time and he also wrote two of the greatest American songs that you hear all the time in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Over There”.
When World War I started Cohan was just barely too old to join, but he did try. Instead of serving in the military he showed his patriotism by composing songs and writing great American plays. The songs and plays and then later the movies he inspired were so patriotic that many credited them as to the reason why they joined up.
Cohan’s family was fond of saying he was born on the fourth of July, even though he actually was born the day before. Whatever the case it never stopped this great American from cranking out great American masterpieces. On June 29, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to World War I morale, in particular the songs “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There.” Cohan was the first person in any artistic field selected for this honor, which previously had gone only to military and political leaders, philanthropists, scientists, inventors, and explorers.
Don’t ever forget that although you may not be able to serve your country in the military anymore there are many other ways to serve. Obviously not everyone can write a broadway musical or a patriotic song, but if you had a decent education you could probably write a book about your experiences in war or in the military that could influence others to join up and fight for our beloved country. There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer at V.A. hospitals, clinics, and other places that can help our veterans or troops.
Next time you hear “Over There” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy” remember the great George M. Cohan and his lifelong dedication to creating great masterpieces in American Theatre and some very patriotic works that inspired and continue to inspire generations of American men and women.