James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

July 2

The Men behind the Guns

By John Jerome Rooney (1866–1934)

A CHEER and salute for the admiral, and here’s to the captain bold,

And never forget the commodore’s debt when the deeds of night are told!

They stand to the deck thro’ the battle’s wreck, when the great shells roar and screech,—

And never they fear when the foe is near to practise what they preach;

But off with your hat and three times three for Columbia’s true-blue sons,—

The men below who batter the foe—the men behind the guns!

Oh, light and merry of heart are they when they swing into port once more,

When, with more than enough of the “green-backed stuff,” they start for their leave-o’-shore;

And you’d think perhaps, that the blue-bloused chaps who loll along the street

Are a tender bit, with salt on it, for some “mustache” to eat—

Some warrior bold, with straps of gold, who dazzles and fairly stuns

The modest worth of the sailor boys,—the lads who serve the guns.

But say not a word till a shot is heard that tells the fight is on,

Till the long deep roar grows more and more from the ships of “Yank” and “Don,”

Till over the deep the tempests sweep of fire and bursting shell,

And the very air is a mad Despair in the throes of a living hell;

Then down, deep down, in the mighty ship, unseen by the midday suns,

You’ll find the chaps who are giving the raps,—the men behind the guns!

Oh, well they know how the cyclones blow that they loose from their cloud of wrath,

And they know is heard the thunder-word their fierce ten-inchers saith!

The steel decks rock with the lightning shock, and shake with the great recoil,

And the sea grows red with the blood of the dead and reaches for its spoil,—

But not till the foe has gone below, or turns his prow and runs,

Shall the voice of peace bring sweet release to the men behind the guns!