Funny Stories Told by the Soldiers: The “long, long trail” over there

Paris, Nov., 1918.—In the logging camps and sawmills, in barracks and on the drill grounds, in camps and on the march, in “Y” and Red Cross huts, at all hours of the day and night, wherever in France the Yank crusaders were at work, I have heard these lines sung, hummed, and whistled:

“There’s a long, long trail a-winding

Into the land of my dreams,

Where the nightingales are singing

And a white moon beams.

There’s a long, long night of waiting

Until my dreams all come true,

Till the day when I’ll be going down

That long, long trail with you.”

Wherever a piano found its way into the American lines someone was sure to be playing this chorus; and, dodging in and out of a convoy along the rutted and winding hillside roads in the zone of operations, in drizzle and mud and low flung clouds, one was certain to hear some camion load of lusty doughboys going to the “Long Trail.”

But it remained for H. A. Rodeheaver, Billy Sunday’s trombone expert, to put a new touch to it. He put the “longing” into the long trail with a dash of Sundayesqueness that smeared sawdust all over the long trail.

“Rodey,” as the soldiers call him, has been singing his way through the American camps in France and emulating his picturesque master, when opportunity afforded, by laying down a metaphorical “sawdust trail” and inviting the boys to hit it again in their hearts.

It was quite remarkable how many hands went up in every camp and barracks and hut when he asked them how many had attended a Sunday revival back home. Then he started singing the songs they heard at these meetings, usually beginning with “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”

He has just the quality of voice that got down deep over here, when the night was dark and damp and the dim light but half illuminated the place, and the boys naturally were letting their thoughts fly back home. They warmed up to him, for he’s a good scout, according to their way of thinking, and the first thing they knew he was asking them to call for any song they would like to hear. About the first voice that responded called for the “Long, Long Trail.”

“All right, men,” he said, with a sincere smile, and his magnetic face, beneath the wavy black hair, seemed to exude a hypnotic fascination. He nodded to his pianist and they started. The barracks, or hut, or camp resounded with the “Long Trail.”

“Fine, fine,” beamed Rodey from the rough board platform. “You know, men, that’s a mighty fine piece of music. Let’s sing it again; now, all together,” and the sound swells a little higher this time.

“Once more,” and Rodey waved his arm in lieu of a baton.

The sea of faces brightened perceptibly, even under the dim lights.

“Now, men,” said Rodey, “just sing that chorus over again and I’ll try the trombone.”

That trombone did the business. Rodey gets a sort of combination alto and tenor harmony out of that old trombone that brings the home folks right into the meeting.

“Now, men, once more, very softly,” and he played the harmony plaintively and fetchingly.

He’s got ’em, and the moment has arrived for sprinkling the sawdust.

“Before we go on with our little program, men,” he said, “let us just bow our heads for a minute in prayer and ask God to help us make the good fight, help us to do the work we came over here to do like men.” The men bowed their heads and he added:

“Just before we ask God’s blessing on these brave men, if there is a boy out there who feels that he has not been living quite as he knows his mother would like to have him live, if there is a boy out there who feels in an especial way the need of God’s help at this hour, will he please raise his hand.”

The place was very still. A hand went up way in the back.

“Yes,” Rodey said. “God bless you, boy.”

Then another and another, and soon scores of hands were held up, while they had their heads bowed.

Then Rodey prayed one of those conversational prayers, and he made it a personal appeal for each one of the boys whose hands had gone up.

It was not Rodey’s plan to send the boys back to their barracks with only seriousness and longing in their heads. He’s one of the most adroit handlers of an audience in Europe. He’d got the main idea planted and now he broke into smiles and there was an infectious laugh in his voice.

He was again talking to red-blooded men who were going out to fight. So he told a few corking stories, humorous but clean, and got down to them instead of talking over them. He was one of ’em. He wanted to send them away with a good taste in their mouths.

Dunbar’s “When Melinda Sings” he does to perfection. Once in awhile he pulls the “Hunk o’ Tin” parody on the Kipling poem.

Then they sing some more, both democratic music and old hymns, and finally they all stand up, after he has launched a two-minute patriotic talk that thrills, and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Rodey never has a set program. He sizes up each new audience with a glance and in two minutes knows about what line of entertainment he ought to give them. If it’s a crowd that likes good stories, they get it. If it is a meeting that likes a Bible talk, they get that, and the great Sunday himself hasn’t much on his pupil in that line. But he never lets a crowd get away with a solemn face. He leads them up the hill and down the hill, and finally sends them back to the blankets feeling refreshed, inspirited, and cheerful.

And when Rodey hit a camp of Negro troops—man, O man! what he did to them!

He thinks the war has been a holy war, a war of crusaders against the terrible Huns, and wants them beaten to a standstill. He insists on the knockout punch, and believes the world will be a better world for everybody after Fritz and his gang have been completely chastized.—Charles N. Wheeler, in The Chicago Tribune.