Memorial Day is an opportunity for Americans to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Celebrated on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is also the unofficial beginning of summer.
So while you are hopefully spending the long weekend with family and friends—enjoying the sun, water, outdoors, grill, cocktail, whatever—it’s important to keep in mind those who have died while ensuring our freedom.
Enjoy our Memorial Day 2021 Playlist that features 20 country songs that honor our fallen vets and pays tribute to America’s fighting spirit. And keep reading for a bit of history on a handful of our favorite tunes from the playlist.
Memorial Day 2021 Playlist
‘Soldier’s Last Letter’ – Ernest Tubb
Ernest Tubb earned his first No. 1 single in 1944 with “Soldier’s Last Letter,” which was written by World War II vet Redd Stewart. Redd was a sergeant in the Army when he penned the touching song, detailing a soldier’s letter to his mother from the battlefield. When his mother saw that the letter had not been signed, as the song goes, “she knew that her darling had died.”
‘Fightin’ Side of Me’ – Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard often insisted that 1969’s “Okie From Muskogee” was not intended as a political statement. But no one could question the intent of his forceful followup, “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” which featured the hard-hitting lyrics: “Runnin’ down the way of life / Our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep / If you don’t love it, leave it.” Merle’s anthem reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1970, strengthening his nickname, “The Poet of the Common Man.”
‘Still in Saigon’ – Charlie Daniels Band
Charlie Daniels recorded “Still in Saigon” in 1982 as a memorial to the plight of those who served in the Vietnam War. Penned by Dan Daley, the song referenced a number of important topics, including PTSD. The single reached No. 22 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1982.
‘Travelin’ Soldier’ – Bruce Robison
While most people are more familiar with the Dixie Chicks’ 2002 version that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, “Travelin’ Solider” was originally recorded by Bruce Robison in 1996. The singer/songwriter penned the heart-wrenching ballad about an 18-year-old soldier who strikes up a conversation with a high school girl before being deployed to Vietnam. The two teens begin a written-letter correspondence. Ultimately, the soldier is killed in action and the young girl mourns her lost love.
‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Lee Brice
Songwriter Connie Harrington got the inspiration to pen “I Drive Your Truck” after listening to NPR on Memorial Day in 2011. She heard about a couple that lost their son in Afghanistan. To help cope with his death, the mother and father would drive their late son’s pickup truck on Sundays. Connie teamed with songwriters Jessi Alexander and Jimmy Yeary to complete the tune. What’s more, Lee Brice scored a No. 1 hit with the single in 2012.