The immigrant who wrote nation’s most patriotic songs

By Bill Federer

Song composer Irving Berlin
Song composer Irving Berlin

The son of a rabbi, he was born May 11, 1888. At four years old, he immigrated with his family from Russia to New York. Falling in love with America, he served as a U.S. infantry sergeant in World War I.

He later wrote some of the nation’s most popular songs, including:

  • “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”
  • “Remember”
  • “Always”
  • “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
  • “There’s No Business like Show Business”
  • “Easter Parade”

Who was he? Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin wrote the Broadway musical, “This is the Army,” which was made into a 1943 film starring Ronald Reagan.

President Harry S. Truman awarded Irving Berlin the Army’s Medal of Merit in 1945 for: “Extraordinary service as creator and producer of the musical revue, ‘This Is the Army.'”

Irving Berlin wrote the patriotic hymn “God Bless America” in 1917. It was introduced to the public in 1938 when Kate Smith sang it on an Armistice Day radio broadcast.

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Irving Berlin gave all the royalties from the song, over $100,000, to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The original Boy Scout Oath stated:

On my honor I will do my best:
To do my duty to God and my country; and
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

The original Girl Scout Promise stated:

On my honor, I will try:
To do my duty to God and my country;
To help other people at all times;
To obey the Girl Scout laws.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed a Congressional Bill awarding Irving Berlin a Congressional Gold Medal: “In recognition of his services in composing many popular songs, including ‘God Bless America.'”

Upon receiving the medal, Feb. 19, 1955, Irving Berlin commented to President Eisenhower: “To me, ‘God Bless America’ was not just a song but an expression of my feeling toward the country to which I owe what I have and what I am.”

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In 1977, Irving Berlin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ford.

On Oct. 12, 2001, Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware stated: “In the aftermath of September 11 … Republicans and Democrats burst into that song of the same name by Irving Berlin on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. … It was a slogan for peace.”

Irving Berlin wrote:

While the storm clouds gather
far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance,
to a land that’s free.

Let us all be grateful,
for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices,
in a solemn prayer.

God Bless America,
Land that I Love,
Stand Beside Her,
and Guide Her,
Through the Night,
with the Light From Above,

From the Mountains,
to the Prairies,
To the Oceans
White with Foam,

God Bless America,
My Home Sweet Home,
God Bless America,
My Home Sweet Home!

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