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The origin of the Navy's 'Anchors Aweigh'

How did "Anchors Aweigh" get its start?

Back in 1906, Navy had not beaten Army on the football field since 1900. Midshipman Alfred A. “Monk” Miles figured the team could use a little musical inspiration. The result was a song that’s every bit as popular today as the year it was born.

For 110 years, “Anchors Aweigh” has been a U.S. Navy staple.

It was Miles who would write the lyrics to the song, but it was the U.S. Naval Academy’s popular bandmaster, Lt. Charles A. “Zimmy” Zimmermann, a graduate of Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, who would come up with the irresistible music. Zimmerman wrote marches for every class during his 24 years at the Academy.  In 1906, he was approached by Miles, who said his classmates “were eager to have a piece of music that would be inspiring, one with a swing to it so it could be used as a football marching song, and one that would live forever,” according to the Navy’s website. 

Zimmy certainly filled the bill.

Legend has it that Zimmerman and Miles worked on the song together, sitting at the organ in the Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis. Miles, who has retained a reputation as one of the most musically inclined midshipmen to attend the academy, was the leader of the chapel choir. Their first work together proved quite the hit.

The 1906 Army-Navy game was to be played on Dec. 1. “Anchors Aweigh (class march of the class of 1907) … will be sung when the Middies have the ball and are pounding against the Army line,” promised a report in the Dec. 1, 1906, Baltimore Sun.

(For those not nautically inclined: The saying “anchor aweigh” means the anchor is no longer touching the bottom and the ship is officially underway. )

Over 30,000 people witnessed the game at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, according to The Sun of Dec. 2. The final score was 10-0, Navy. “The jubulation of the Annapolitans began all over again,” The Sun reported, “and never ceased until with parched throats and lost voices, they danced their way to the special trains for Annapolis.”

Lt. Charles A Zimmerman remained director of the Naval Academy band until his death in 1916. Cpt. Alfred H. Miles retired from Naval service on Dec. 31, 1944. The next day, he was commissioned a captain in the Army, serving in the Army Transportation Corps. He died in 1956.

These are Miles’ original lyrics to “Anchors Aweigh.”  A third verse was added by George D. Lottman  in 1926. In 1997, the lyrics were revised, to something a bit less football-centric,  by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Hagen.

Stand Navy down the field, sails set to the sky.
We'll never change our course, so Army you steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh.
Sail Navy down the field and sink the Army, sink the Army Grey.

Get underway, Navy, Decks cleared for the fray,
We'll hoist true Navy Blue So Army down your Grey-y-y-y.
Full speed ahead, Navy; Army heave to,
Furl Black the Grey and Gold and hoist the Navy, hoist the Navy Blue

(Verse 3, added in 1926): Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to college joys, we sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night on shore, drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more:
Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.

The revised 1997 lyrics:

Stand Navy out to sea,
Fight our battle cry;
We'll never change our course,
So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll out the TNT,
Anchors Aweigh.
Sail on to victory
And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

Anchors Aweigh, my boys,
Anchors Aweigh.
Farewell to foreign shores,
We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.
Through our last night ashore,
Drink to the foam,
Until we meet once more.
Here's wishing you a happy voyage home.

Blue of the mighty deep:
Gold of God's great sun.
Let these our colors be
Till all of time be done, done, done, done.
On seven seas we learn
Navy's stern call:
Faith, courage, service true,
With honor, over honor, over all.

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