From the mid-1940s, Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King co-wrote many hit songs, including 1965’s "Tennessee Waltz" which was proclaimed the official state song the same year. Redd would also appear in movies with King. However, Redd Stewart’s 1944 song “A Soldier’s Last Letter” would be his most enduring tribute to fallen soldiers through many wars from World War II to today. The 'Soldier's Last Letter' lyrics capture the ultimate acceptance of impending death in the last letter of a soldier to his mother, just before his actual death in battle.The soldier's mother, in her grief and agony, prays for the safety for all other soldiers. Get the tissues ready when you listen to this most enduring tribute song for our fallen military soldiers.
Who was this singer/songwriter who so passionately put into words this enduring tribute for every fallen soldier? What is the story behind this heart-wrenching song “Soldier’s Last Letter”? The song was born from young songwriter, recording artist and U.S. Army Sergeant Redd Stewart while serving in World War II's campaign in the South Pacific. Little did Redd know that his beautiful tribute song would sadly continue as an anthem for many fallen heroes to come. Redd Stewart was born Henry Ellis Stewart on May 27, 1923 in Ashland, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, he and his family would move to Louisville, Kentucky. There, his talent in mastering multiple instruments, his songwriting and his singing skills would eventually land him a spot in 1937 with Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys. Four years later, in 1941, with World War II looming, Redd Stewart joined the U.S. Army. He quickly proved himself worthy of the rank of Sergeant. Already an established Country music artist and songwriter, Redd Stewart’s military experiences from 1941 to 1945 would greatly impact his need to honor the 2,403 American soldiers who died defending our country.
In 1944, in the midst of the fray, Redd wrote "Soldier's Last Letter" While still in the South Pacific, Redd chose the civilian and well known artist, Ernest Tubb, to record and release the single "Soldier's Last Letter" in 1944. The song was an instant hit and was so popular that it was a top rated single for seven months, staying for four weeks at Number 1 on the Country charts. The song also caught the admiration of the Top 20 Pop charts. The Juke Box Folk chart listed the B-side of "Soldiers Last Letter", “Yesterday’s Tears” at Number 4. Prior to the Japanese Imperial military forces officially surrendering on September 2, 1945, the pain and memories of the war were very real for the young sergeant. Redd’s only outlet for truly honoring the men who died during World War II would be through his emotional "Soldier's Last Letter". After his service, Redd Stewart returned to Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys, where he would write and co-write many more Number 1 hits. Sixteen years after the first 1944 release of 'Soldier's Last Letter' sung by Ernest Tubb, The Louvin Brothers covered Redd’s “Soldier's Last Letter” in 1962 on their album Weapon Of Prayer under Capitol Records Nashville. The song surfaced again at the beginning of another war… Vietnam. . Many other versions of this song emerged throughout the decades. However, in 1970, probably the most passionately patriotic rendition came from a young Merle Haggard on his album Hag. This release would come during the slow and tragic end of the Vietnam War. Merle Haggard’s rendition and recording is the most heralded in tribute songs to our beloved sons and daughters who sacrificed their lives in many wars. Redd Stewart’s "Soldiers Last Letter" as sung by Merle was a hit as the Vietnam War’s bleeding and unhealed wounds were still very raw. For Merle, the 1971 single reached number 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, the Canadian RPM Country Tracks rated it Number 4 and on U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the song was rated Number 90. The late Merle Haggard was a passionate patriot, even though he did not serve in the armed forces. His honor for our troops came through many of his songs, including his feat with Gretchen Wilson called “Politically Uncorrect”. Nonetheless, Merle’s version of Redd Stewart's "Soldiers Last Letter" is just one of his most memorable songs honoring our fallen soldiers from the Middle East to wherever wars still exist.
Redd Stewart, the iconic singer/songwriter and a 1972 inductee in and charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, passed away at Louisville, Kentucky’s Baptist Hospital East in on August 2, 2003. The cause of death stemmed from complications after injuries from a fall in the early 1990s. Redd was 80 years old. Many of us know that Redd Stewart did not believe his "Soldier's Last Letter" would endure for so long. Haggard's version of the touching "Soldier's Last Letter" would surely make Stewart proud. Sadly, you'll find the song lyrics by Redd Stewart are heart-wrenching and relevant today as you read the lyrics to "Soldier's Last Letter" here. (Courtesy of axs.com)