Archived Story

Local connections for 2 service songs

Published 9:27am Friday, September 2, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

There are five musical compositions officially associated with the nation’s armed forces. They are the “Marines’ Hymn,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” “Into the Wild, Blue Yonder” and the Coast Guard’s “Semper Paratus.” And there are local connections for those last two songs.

Thanks to excellent research by Anita Lotts, there’s firm confirmation that the composer of the Air Force’s “Into the Wild, Blue Yonder” was the son of a woman who once lived in Albert Lea.

Sometime in the 1870s sisters Clara and Mabel McArthur came to the city from Port Huron, Mich. In August 1879 Clara married Hans Knatvold. They moved to Gig Harbor and later Tacoma, Wash., in 1884 and younger sister Mabel went with them. Mabel married Ronald Crawford a few years later, and they went to Canada as part of the Yukon gold rush. Their son Robert McArthur Crawford was born in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, during July 1899.

Robert grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, graduated from Princeton University and became a musician, composer and aircraft pilot. As a singer he was known as the “Flying Baritone” and the “Klondike Baritone.”

In 1939 the U.S. Army Air Corps held a contest to select an official song. Crawford’s words and music with the “Off we go into the wild blue yonder” theme was the winner.

He served as a pilot in the Air Corps during World War II. And when the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the armed forces in 1947, the name and a few words of his song were changed to reflect this change.

Robert Crawford died during March 1961. However, his patriotic musical legacy endures.

Yet the local connection for the Coast Guard’s song is a lot stronger.

The U.S. Coast Guard Historians’ Office lists three names as the creators of the song “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready). They are Capt. Francis Saltus Van Boskerck, Dr. Joseph O. Fournier and Dr. Alf E. Nannestad. That last name is the one with the local connection.

Alf was born during 1892, the son of Norwegian immigrants Dr. Jonas and Aargot Nannestad. His very musical family came to the city in 1906, and Alf graduated from Albert Lea High School in 1910. He earned his doctoral status by graduating from the University of Minnesota College of Dentistry in 1915.

Dr. Nannestad served in the U.S. Army for two years during World War I. In 1920 he became the first dentist to be commissioned in the nation’s Public Health Service. One of his assignments during 31 years in this organization was with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Bering Sea Patrol in Unalaska, Alaska, in 1925 and ’26.

Capt. Van Boskerck, the commander of this unit in the Aleutian Island chain, had written a poem about the Coast Guard a few years earlier. He asked Drs. Fournier (another dentist) and Nannestad to compose a melody for his poem. From this the Coast Guard’s official song was composed.

Alf retired from the Public Health Service in 1951 and spent the rest of his life in Wynnewood, Pa. He died on July 1, 1971, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Cornstalk comment

Last week I checked out the June/July 2011 issue of Country Magazine at the Albert Lea Public Library. As I read through this very interesting, memory-nudging publication, I came across an article by Al Batt on page 92.

Al’s narrative was based on the June 17, 2010, tornadoes here in Freeborn County and how area people helped with the cleanup.

He specifically emphasized how photos and other mementos scattered around the countryside were collected by folks and taken to West Freeborn Lutheran Church in Manchester Township for the owners to reclaim these valuable links with the past. Al also gave special attention in his article to the folks of West Freeborn Lutheran Church for serving meals to those affected by the tornado and for providing their moral and spiritual support.

With just three exceptions, Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.