The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley

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"The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley"
Single by C-Company featuring Terry Nelson
ReleasedMarch 1971
GenreSpoken word
Songwriter(s)Julian Wilson
James M. Smith
Producer(s)Shelby Singleton

"The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley" is a 1971 spoken word recording with vocals by Terry Nelson and music by pick-up group C-Company.

Inspiration and meaning[edit]

The song is set to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". It offers a heroic description of Lieutenant William Calley, who in March 1971 was convicted of murdering Vietnamese civilians in the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968. The song discusses different opinions of the Vietnam War. It starts off with Calley's childhood and how being a part of the war and fighting for your country was an aspiration for young children. It later on discusses how at the time many Americans believed the killings in the war were wrong: "they've made me out a villain". Then the song talks about how in Vietnam soldiers were being killed and ambushed. Finally it ends by saying that Calley was not to blame; he was only following orders and he thought it was an honor to fight at first, but there was no purpose or reward in doing so.

Lyrical account[edit]

The song begins with an idealized, fictional account of Calley's childhood. It subsequently portrays factually Calley's early war experiences and the fatalities of young men in his company. It then goes on to relate the events at My Lai from Calley's point of view. [1]

Background and success[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 37
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 49

The song was written in April 1970 by Julian Wilson and James M. Smith of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In November 1970 a few copies of it were issued by Quickit Publishing. In March 1971 Shelby Singleton, publisher of "Harper Valley PTA," obtained the rights to the song and issued a new recording under his Plantation Records label.[2] The single sold over one million copies in just four days, and was certified gold by the RIAA on 15 April 1971.[3] It went on to sell nearly two million copies,[3] and got "a lot of C&W airplay".[2]

References in pop culture[edit]

The song is mentioned in Hunter S. Thompson's novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


  1. ^ Brummer, Justin. "Vietnam War: My Lai & Lt. William Calley Songs". RYM. Retrieved 28 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (April 22, 1971). "Consumer Guide (17): Additional Consumer News". The Village Voice. Shelby Singleton's Plantation Records, which first hit with "Harper Valley PTA," is getting a lot of c&w airplay for "The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley," written and performed (execrably, by the way) by non-professionals and published, no kidding, by Quickit Publishing Co.
  3. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 299. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.