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Sailor Stories, Sailor Songs

Songs

The Sinking of the Reuben James

Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

USS Reuben James sinking, October 31, 1941.USS Reuben James sinking, October 31, 1941. Photo from the National Archives.
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Listen to Woody Guthrie

Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James
Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?
She flew the Stars and Stripes of the land of the free
But tonight she's in her grave at the bottom of the sea.

Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names,
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?
What were their names, tell me, what were their names?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James

Well, a hundred men went down in that dark watery grave
When that good ship went down only forty-four were saved.
'Twas the last day of October we saved the forty-four
From the cold ocean waters and the cold icy shore.

It was there in the dark of that uncertain night
That we watched for the U-boats and waited for a fight.
Then a whine and a rock and a great explosion roared
And they laid the Reuben James on that cold ocean floor.

Words and Music by Woody Guthrie © The Woody Guthrie Foundation Inc. Administered by BMG Chrysalis. Recording from The Asch Recordings, Vol.1–4. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, SFW40112, 1999. HFA Songfile. Used by permission.