Tonight the Parker Memorial Baptist Church orchestra will perform the song “Blades of Grass and Pure White Stones” to honor our nation’s Independence Day. It is a song that fans ask director Don Gober to include each year.
As a clarinet player in the orchestra, I decided to find out the story behind the song which belongs Senator Orrin Hatch.
Hatch, the 80-year-old longtime senator from Utah, was the 11-year-old brother of Jesse who was 19 years old when he headed off to fight in World War II. He was a nose gunner on a B-24 bomber and was shot down and killed while destroying Adolf Hitler’s oil fields in German. The Hatch family members were distraught over the news of his death, and none more so than Orrin. Jesse was Orrin’s only living brother, and when he heard the bad news, he went off alone and was sick. A few days later, according to his sister, a lock of hair above his forehead turned white and stayed that way throughout his life.
Hatch has not only become a long-time and hard-working senator in the United States Congress, but also he is a prolific songwriter of many patriotic, religious, and popular songs. In addition to honoring his brother with “Blades of Grass,” Hatch has also written two others songs dedicated to him, “Someday I’ll Fly” and “Morning Breaks on Arlington.”
I was able to contact one of Hatch’s co-writers, Lowell Alexander, to learn more about “Blades of Grass.”
Alexander, who has more than 500 songs to his own credit, lives in Murphreesboro, Tenn. Here is how he first learned about the song Hatch had written.
“Senator Hatch sent me a lyric for ‘Blades of Grass’ with the first verse complete,” said Alexander. He and another writing partner, Grammy winner Phil Naish, finished the song.
Here are the lyrics, “Blades of grass and pure white stones/ cover those who left their homes/ to rest in fields here side by side/ lest we forget their sacrifice. Buried here in dignity/ Endless rows for all to see/ Freedom’s seeds in sorrow sown/ These blades of grass and pure white stones. Just below the emerald sod/ Are boys who’ve reached the arms of God.”
The song is repeated and often is played with video photographs shown in the background of Arlington Cemetery. The song, sung by many, including the Morman Tabernacle Choir and the United States Band, is performed each year at the annual fundraiser for the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who are living. Alexander said he attended one of those events and was touched to sit across from soldiers who had sacrificed so much for their country. As “Blades of Grass” was performed at the event, the heroes had tears in their eyes. “It puts them back to where they were,” said Alexander.
Alexander said the song, like others he has written, feels like one of his children.
“Anytime people can enjoy it and have emotion connected to, it pleases me,” he said. “People relate to it on a broad level, even if they do not have a brother or other relative killed in a war. This song honors those who are the reason we have freedom in this country. They sacrifice and keep oppression away. It is good to be a part of that.”
Alexander is also happy about his 20-year songwriting partnership with Hatch, who is one of the finest people Alexander said he has ever met. “He is extraordinarily honest and trustworthy,” he said.
Hatch is known for his strong work ethic in the Senate and his outstanding leadership role in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, traits that some say he also exhibits for himself and his beloved brother. “Blades of Grass” is more than a patriotic song. It also shows brotherly love, which is important in both a family and a country.
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