Music & the Spoken Word: ‘First in the hearts of his countrymen’

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This has been previously broadcast and will be given again on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.

According to popular legend, an officer in the Revolutionary War once directed his men to fell some trees and construct a much-needed bridge. As the soldiers struggled mightily with the task, an imposing-looking man rode up and, observing their work, said to the officer, “You don’t have enough men for the job, do you?”

“No,” the officer replied. “We need some help.”

The man, looking down from his saddle, asked, “Why don’t you help your men?”

“Me?” the officer responded in a huff. “Why, I am a corporal!”

The man got down from his horse and worked with the soldiers until the bridge was completed. Then, mounting his horse, he said to the officer, “Corporal, the next time you have a job to put through and too few men to do it you had better send for the Commander-in-Chief, and I will come again” (see “The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life’s Journey,” edited by William J. Bennett, published in 1995, page 657).

The man, so the legend goes, was Gen. George Washington.

The Washington Monument and the distant dome of the Capitol are seen through trees on the National Mall as night falls, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington.
The Washington Monument and the distant dome of the Capitol are seen through trees on the National Mall as night falls, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. Credit: Rebecca Blackwell, Associated Press

This remarkable leader left a singular imprint on our nation. His picture is on postage stamps, coins, and dollar bills. His name is on cities, roads, lakes, mountains and schools all over the country. And a 555-foot monument in his honor stands majestically at the center of the nation’s capital, which also happens to bear the name Washington.

But more important than all of this is the imprint he left on the lives of the people who knew him — and, indirectly, on every American ever since. He was deeply respected for his unique combination of ability and humility. And in turn, he showed deep respect for others — especially those who stood by his side and fought for freedom in perilous conditions. The idea that Gen. Washington would stop to help men build a bridge is perfectly believable because that’s the kind of person he was. The poetic words written for his eulogy in 1799 are just as true today as they were then: he was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” (see “Funeral Oration on the Death of General Washington,” by Henry Lee; online at nlm.nih.gov/).

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, ksl.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirectTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), the tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoiratTempleSquare and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.org/schedules.