If only there were a book that gave reliable sources for all famous quotations... Wait! There is one! The recently published Yale Book of Quotations has the following:
When the final taps is sounded and we lay aside life's cares, And we do the last and gloried parade on heaven's shining stairs, And the angels bid us welcome and the harps begin to play We can draw a million canteen checks and spend them in a day. It is then we'll hear St. Peter tell us loudly with a yell, "Take a front seat, you soldier men, you've done your hitch in Hell."
Frank B. Camp, "Our Hitch in Hell" (1917). A better known later variant is: "When he gets to Heaven, / To St. Peter he will tell, / One more Marine reporting, Sir, / I've served my time in Hell."
Posts: 53 | Location: New Haven, CT | Registered: 01-03-03
This was written by my father while serving on Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division, H Company, Second Battalion, First Regiment, in WWII. Bill Cameron was his best friend and was killed by bombs dropped from Japanese planes. He wrote it as an epitaph for Bill's grave.
Since he wrote this in 1942 it is doubtful that Hal Popplewell wrote it. Especially since Popplewell mentions Korea and Vietnam in his poem. He may have written the poem but the last verse belongs to my dad.
There is a book of war quotes....and I believe it is titled "The Dictionary of War Quotations" (I might be mistaken about the title...I have the book at home but I am not at home). In the book it does credit the quote as appearing first as an epitaph on Pfc. Bill Cameron's grave on Guadalcanal.
I don't mean in any way to detract from the service and heroism of Jim's dad fighting on Guadalcanal (my own father won the Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge), but it is very unlikely that he wrote this poem or even just the last paragraph. In what month do you think he wrote it?
Fred Shapiro Editor Yale Book of Quotations
Posts: 53 | Location: New Haven, CT | Registered: 01-03-03
my grandfather did a veriation of that poem in WWII our family thought he wrote it but it looks like he only changed some of the words he was also in the ccc camps and i've seen other veriations of it with the ccc as well.he named it a hitch in hell
Posts: 1 | Location: Du Bois, Pa, USA | Registered: 03-06-08
I have a version, handwritten by my uncle from the 1930's, while he was in the CCC. He later served and was killed in WW2. His version was included in my book, Patton's Troubleshooters:
“Hitch In Hell”
I am sitting here and thinking of the things I left behind, and I hate to put on paper what is running through my mind. We've dug a million ditches, we've cleared a million miles of ground, and a meaner place this side of hell on earth will never be found, but there is some consolation, gather closely while I tell. When we die we'll go to Heaven, 'cause we've done our hitch in hell.
We've built a million kitchens for the cooks to stew our beans, we've stood a million guard mounts and cleaned the camp latrines. The number of trees we've chopped is very hard to tell, but there'll be no trees in Heaven, for we've done our hitch in hell.
We've built a million bridges, we've walked through miles of mud, we've cleaned a million mess kits and peeled a million spuds, we've shoveled tons of gravel a million rocks we've lugged, but there'll be no rocks in Heaven for we've lugged our rocks in hell.
We've killed a million bed bugs out our dirty our eats. We've shook a million sheets. Ah, the number of nights we've frozen as low the mercury fell, but we'll not freeze in Heaven for we've done our hitch in hell.
We've heard a million whistles blow from morn' till late at night, so we'd like to kill the dirty bums who took away our rights. And the foremen we've had over us, how many we can't tell, but we'll bar them all from heaven 'till they've done their hitch in hell.
When the final call is sounded and we lay aside our cares, we'll do our big parade right up the golden stairs. The angels they will welcome us, their harps will start to play, and we'll draw a million canteen checks and spend them in a day. It's then we'll hear St. Peter greet us loudly with his yell. Take those front seats C.C.C. boys, you've done your hitch in hell.
After my book was published, I got a copy of the original poem, from my friend Don Schoo. The original version of this poem, and the oldest version I have found, dates before WW1 in 1916 when his relative was serving in the American Expedition in Mexico:
OUR HITCH IN HELL
I am sitting here and thinking of the things I've left behind,
And am writing down the little things as they run through my mind.
We have dug a thousand trenches, and cleaned a thousand miles of ground,
If there's a meaner place this side of Hell, it sure is still unfound,
But there still is one consolation, gather closely while I tell,
When we die we are bound for Heaven,
For we've done our hitch in Hell.
We have built a thousand kitchens,
For the cooks to burn our beans,
We have stood a thousand guards mounts,
And cleaned the camp latrines,
We have washed a thousand dishes,
And peeled ten thousand spuds,
We have made a million blanket rolls,
And have washed as many duds,
The number of parades we've stood,
Would be most hard to tell,
But we will not parade in Heaven,
As we've done our hitch in Hell.
We have killed a thousand rattlesnakes, that tried to steal our cots,
And shook a million centipedes, out of our army socks,
We have marched ten thousand miles,
And made a thousand camps,
And pulled a million cactus points out of our khaki pants.
But when our mission here is done, our friends will gently tell,
When they died, they went to Heaven,
For they had done their hitch in Hell.
When those final taps are sounded,
We'll parade the golden stairs,
And the Angels there will welcome us,
And play their Heavenly airs,
Then will St. Peter tell us, with a loud and mighty yell,
"Take a front seat up in Heaven boys, for you have done your hitch in Hell."