Nickel On The Grass

March 30, 2017

If you attend the military funeral of a fighter pilot, you’ll see attendees throwing nickels onto the grave. The tradition is an homage to the song Throw A Nickel On The Grass, which has become the de-facto anthem of the fighter pilot community. It evolved from the early 20th century Salvation Army song Put A Nickel On the Drum:

I was lyin’ in the gutter, all covered up with beer!
Pretzels in my eyebrow, I feared the end was near,
When along come the Salvation Army
and saved me from the hearse.
Everybody come along, let’s sing that second verse:

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Put a nickel on the drum, save another drunken bum!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Put a nickel on the drum and you’ll be saved!

Oh, G-L-O-R-Y, to be S-A-V-E-D!
I’m so H-A-P-P-Y that I’m F-R-double-E (hee-hee!)!
F-R-double-E from the ways of S-I-N!
Glory, glory, hallelujah, tra-la-la-l’-amen!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Put a nickel on the drum, save another drunken bum!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Put a nickel on the drum and you’ll be saved!

During the Korean War, Lt. William Star released a collection of songs to military songwriter Oscar Brand, and one of the songs was the repurposed Nickel On The Grass:

Chorus:
Oh, Halleliua, Halleliua
Throw a nickel on the grass–Save a fighter pilot’s ass.
Oh, Halleliua, Oh, Halleliua
Throw a nickel on the grass and you’ll be saved.

I was cruising down the Yalu, doing six and twenty per
When a call came from the Major, Oh won ‘t you save me sir?
Got three flak holes in my wing tips, and my tanks ain’t got no gas.
Mayday, mayday, mayday, I got six MIGS on my ass.
Chorus
I shot my traffic pattern, and to me it looked all right,
The airspeed read one-thirty, I really racked it tight!
Then the airframe gave a shudder, the engine gave a wheeze,
Mayday, mayday, mayday, spin instructions please.
Chorus
It was split S on my Bomb run, and I got too God Damn low
But I pressed that bloody button, and I let those babies go
Sucked the stick back fast as blazes, when I hit a height speed stall
I won’t see my mother when the work all done next fall.
Chorus
They sent me down to Pyongyang, the brief said “no ack ack”
by the time that I arrived there, my wings was mostly flak.
Then my engine coughed and sputtered, it was too cut up to fly
Mayday, mayday, mayday, I’m too young to die.
Chorus
I bailed out from the Sabre, and the landing came out fine
With my E and E equipment, I made for our front line.
When I opened up ration, to see what was in it,
The God damn quartermaster why he filled the tin with grit.
Chorus