“…speaking about history, the only thing that boggles me about the U.S Army is the "Gary Owen" motivation cry. who is he? what is his significance to the 7th Air Calvary?”
The 7th Cavalry has a long proud tradition, but is most famous for two episodes in American history.
First, it was the 7th Cavalry that rode out from Powder River under the command of LTC George Armstrong Custer in 1876 to meet it’s fate at Little Big Horn at the hands of the Oglala Sioux, led by Crazy Horse and Gall, along with contingents from five other tribes. For those of you who have absolutely NO grasp of history at all, the result of General Custer’s overconfidence was the complete slaughter of a large part of the regiment. One hundred and Ninety Seven soldiers died in about twenty minutes. The only known survivor was a horse named Comanche. I won’t get into the politics of it all except to say that both sides did what they had to do and both sides fought like true warriors.
The second well known action by the 7th Cavalry took place in the Ia DrangValley of South Vietnam in 1965. I won’t elaborate too much, since most of you have (hopefully) seen the movie We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson, or read the book it was based on, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young by Joe Galloway and LTC Hal Moore. If you haven’t…the 7th Cavalry had become the 7th Air Cav by this time (pioneers of the Airmobile/Air Assault techniques still used today), and fought the first MAJOR battle of the Vietnam war.
Now on to Gary Owen…
Gary Owen is actually Garryowen…all one word… and it is the Regimental marching song of the famous 7th Cavalry.
Who is he? Well…it’s actually not a he…or even a person. Garryowen (all one word) comes from 2 different gaelic words (Garrai and Oein) that translate roughly to Owen’s garden. Garryowen is a town in County Limerick, Ireland. Thanks to a reputation as a rowdy, wild place it was immortalized in an Irish quickstep in around 1860.
As the story goes, one of the Irish troopers in Custer’s command was singing the song while having a wee bit o’ spirits one night around the fire. The song is a natural for the cavalry as the beat translates well to the rhythm of galloping horses. LTC Custer heard the song and liked it so much it soon became a favorite of the Regiment. It was the last tune played by the Regimental band as they rode out towards Little Big Horn.
The tune became the official “Air” of the Regiment in 1867 and actually became the official tune of the entire 1st Cavalry Division in 1981.
The significance of the tune in the Regiment’s history led to it being incorporated into the Regimental crest, along with the raised saber.
When Soldiers salute an officer, they also traditionally give the “greeting of the day” or the regimental motto. So when any soldier, anywhere, in the 7th Cav salutes, they sound off with “Garry Owen, Sir!” This will also occasionally be used the same way that “Hooah” is used throughout the Army or “OOORAH” is used in the Marine Corps. A good example of the emotion this can contain is a scene in We Were Soldiers where a young trooper is finally reunited with the unit after being cut off for the entire night. I can’t explain the emotion, you have to watch the movie I guess to know what I mean.
Anyway, it’s enough to say that the members of the 7th Cavalry take a lot of pride in this part of their history.
The reason I am so interested in the 7th Cavalry (never having served with them) is this...
My father in law served with 1/7th Cavalry in Vietnam. He arrived around 6 months to a year after the engagement at LZ Xray, and served with them until he was wounded and sent to the hospital in Pleiku. He was a 1LT, a Forward Observer, and a great soldier. (Incidentally he also commanded a Basic Training Company here at Ft Jackson for awhile as a Lieutenant.)
When I met my wife, and went to meet her family eventually, I was a little nervous. We hit it off immediately, and I realized that I was lucky indeed, not only to have found a great woman, but a great set of “in-laws” also. I think both of us being soldiers and talking about his experiences in Vietnam and my experience in the modern Infantry went a long way to set us both at ease lol.
My Father in law, 1LT George W…
If you look closely, you can see a Regimental crest, featuring the words “Garry Owen” pinned on his fatigues.
If I remember correctly this was taken only a few days before he was shot and wounded.
If you’re interested, here are both sets of lyrics to the song Garry Owen. The first is the original lyrics, and the second is the lyrics adopted later by the 7th Cavalry.
Let Bacchus' sons be not dismayed
But join with me, each jovial blade
Come, drink and sing and lend your aid
To help me with the chorus:
Instead of spa, we'll drink brown ale
And pay the reckoning on the nail;
No man for debt shall go to jail
From Garryowen in glory.
We'll beat the bailiffs out of fun,
We'll make the mayor and sheriffs run
We are the boys no man dares dun
If he regards a whole skin.
Our hearts so stout have got no fame
For soon 'tis known from whence we came
Where'er we go they fear the name
Of Garryowen in glory.
7TH Cavalry Version
We are the pride of the army,
And a regiment of great renown,
Our name’s on the pages of history,
From sixty six on down.
If you think we stop or falter,
While into the fray we’re goin’
Just watch the step with our heads erect
When our band plays "Garry Owen."
In the Fighting Seventh’s the place for me.
It’s the cream of all the cavalry;
No other regiment ever can claim
It’s pride, honor, glory, and undying fame.
We know no fear when stern duty
Calls us far away from home,
Our country’s flag shall sagely o’er us wave,
No matter where we roam.
T’is the gallant Seventh Cavalry,
It matters not where we’re goin’
such you’ll surely say as we march away,
When our band plays "Garry Owen."
Then hurrah for our brave commanders!
Who lead us into the fight.
We’ll do or die in our country’s cause.
And battle for the right.
And when the war is o’er
And to our home we’re goin’
Just watch the step, with our head erect,
When our band plays, "Garry Owen."
Well, I hope this answers your question... I enjoyed writing it.