The origins of the Duckworth army chant

Published 9:15 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ask any soldier who has come through basic training in the Army since the latter part of WWII, and  they will recall portions of the Duckworth Chant or Duckworth “Sound Off” as it became known. Probably very few would know its origin and the person responsible for coining the popular cadence call. Interestingly, we have a first hand witness to the beginnings of this historical military phenomenon living in our midst. WWII Nurse Geraldine Vaden of Marion was serving as head nurse at Ft. Slocum, New York when the chant or cadence was first introduced.

The chant was the insightful and creative origination of a young black Soldier from Sandersville, Georgia. Willie Lee Duckworth was working at a sawmill in Sandersville, Ga when drafted into the Army during WWII. He was assigned to a provisional training center at Ft. Slocum, New York. In the course of his service there, he was ordered by his commanding officer to march some troops. In carrying out his orders, Duckworth came up with a chant to keep the troops in step, improve their performance, and boost morale on long grueling marches. Anyone who has been on one of these basic training 13 mile treks with full field packs will understand how monotonous and tiresome it gets.

The results achieved was phenomenal and did not escape the attention of Army officers at Ft. Slocum. The Duckworth chant became an immediate success story and spread like wildfire throughout training centers in the United States. The base commander at Fort Slocum, Col. Bernard Lentz, realizing the significance of the discovery, immediately began helping Pvt. Duckworth protect his rights to the chant.

The original chant or cadence was recorded on a V-Disc (V for victory) in 1944 and called “Sound Off.” It credited Duckworth as the originator. A V-Disc was a 12 inch, 78 rpm gramophone recording. It was created for the American military overseas.

The lead chant and response went like this:

Sound-off: 1-2; Sound-off: 3-4; (Cadence count:) 1-2-3-4, 1-2 – 3-4.

Probably the most popular verse and the one most veterans will recall is the “Jody.” Jody was a fictitious character who had stolen the soldier’s girl while he was gone.

“Ain’t no use of goin’ home.

Jody’s got your gal and gone.”

Followed by the lead chant and response above.The follow up to the verse above was:

“Ain’t no use in feelin’ blue

Jody’s got your sister too.”

As stated, there were many variations of the chant, but all were a weary Soldier’s delight. I remember them well, and am very grateful to Pvt. Willie Lee Duckworth for making long marches bearable. With these few words, Duckworth gained a prominent place in the annals of U.S. Military history.

We lost this wonderfully talented man in 2004. Afterwards, a stretch of highway in Washington County, Georgia was named in his honor.