Harold W. 'Bud' Arberg Sr., 90; Adapted 'Caisson' for Official Army Song

Harold W. "Bud" Arberg Sr. also wrote and conducted musical shows.
Harold W. "Bud" Arberg Sr. also wrote and conducted musical shows. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 7, 2009

Harold W. "Bud" Arberg Sr., 90, a musician who adapted the "Caisson" into the official song of the Army and who later became director of the arts and humanities division of the Department of Education, died of pneumonia Aug. 4 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

It took the Army three tries and nearly half a century to come up with an official song before Dr. Arberg, then a member of the Army's Special Services Division, got it right. The Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard all had their official songs, and the Army sang what might have been the best-known military song of all: "Over hill, over dale, we have hit the dusty trail, as our caissons go rolling along." But "The Caissons Go Rolling Along," written in 1908 by then-1st Lt. Edmund L. "Snitz" Gruber, never received official status.

Toward the end of World War I, composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa added a few introductory measures to Gruber's piece and renamed it "The U.S. Field Artillery March." Sousa's version became a huge hit, although it never became official, in part because the lyrics referred to the field artillery and not the Army as a whole.

The Army resumed its search for a song in the late 1940s, about the time Dr. Arberg was serving as an Army musician in Iran. In 1948, he became a reserve officer at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

"An all-Army song contest the previous year had produced five new songs, including one by Vaughn Monroe, the popular bandleader and singer," Dr. Arberg told the Army Times in 2003. "They were well-crafted songs, but none inspired much response from soldiers or the general public."

Dr. Arberg returned to active duty in 1951 and was assigned to the Pentagon. As the new musical officer, he was summoned by Lt. Col. Bryce Denno, military aide to Army Secretary Frank Pace Jr. "He's tired of going to functions where 'Anchors Aweigh' and the Air Force and Marine songs are played, when there is no Army song," Dr. Arberg said Denno told him.

Dr. Arberg began looking for songwriters interested in taking on the mission. Those he visited, including Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II and Johnny Mercer, "were polite but unresponsive," Dr. Arberg recalled in the Army Times interview.

Then he talked to Sam H. Stept, the prolific songwriter who co-wrote the popular wartime hit "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" (1942). Stept came up with what Dr. Arberg called "a rousing marching song" called "The Army's Always There."

A selection committee awarded the song official status, and the Army band performed it while marching down Pennsylvania Avenue during the 1953 inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Unfortunately for the composer, too many people thought they were hearing "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," a well-known English song. Fearing legal challenges, the Army shelved "The Army's Always There."

In 1956, new Army Secretary Wilbur M. Brucker decided the Army should adopt the old standard, "The Caissons Go Rolling Along." Dr. Arberg wrote new lyrics ("First to fight for the right, and to build the Nation's might, and The Army Goes Rolling Along") and a new musical introduction, and on Veterans Day 1956 Gruber's "Caisson" song became "The Army Goes Rolling Along," the official song of the U.S. Army.

Harold Walton Arberg was born Aug. 19, 1918, in Brooklyn, N.Y. After receiving a bachelor's degree in music from Princeton University in 1940, he served in the Army's Persian Gulf Command during World War II, writing and conducting musical shows. He received a master's degree in 1948 and a doctorate in 1951, both in education from Columbia University.

Returning to active duty during the Korean War, his Special Services assignments included seeking ways to inspire soldiers through barbershop harmonizing.

After a decade on active duty, he was named head of the cultural affairs branch of the U.S. Office of Education. Later, as director of the arts and humanities branch of the Office of Education, one of his aims was to assimilate the arts into the regular public school curriculum.

"We hope to make the arts a part of the cake rather than the icing on the cake, which is the way music, art, theater, dance and film are frequently taught now in schools," he told the New York Times in 1976. He retired from the Department of Education in 1983.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Jane Phillips Arberg of Arlington; four children, Harold W. Arberg Jr. of Martinsburg, W.Va., Phillips A. Arberg of Las Vegas and Charles S. Arberg and Robert C. Arberg, both of Alexandria; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Dr. Arberg, who once wrote a bicentennial musical called "The Decision," which starred Hugh O'Brian as George Washington, was appointed to a committee in 1957 to "tidy up" "The Star-Spangled Banner." As countless national anthem singers can testify, that task was left undone.

Visit the Post Mortem obituaries blog at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postmortem/ to hear versions of the official Army song.

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