Stand To Your Glasses

We just passed Vietnam Veterans Day last week (March 29, 2022), placed perversely on the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. That we are in the midst of another terrible war, this time in Ukraine, wraps my heart in melancholy. Tonight, I take a drink to honor fallen friends and to mourn all the combatants and non-combatants caught up in the latest maelstrom.

Then, in a movie on Turner Classic Movies, I hear the song sometimes called “Stand To Your Glasses.”

The photo, by an unknown squadron mate with my camera, is of three VRC-50 “Foo Dogs” drinking, 1969: from top to bottom, Airmen Beeman, Gleason and Smith. We always had reason, I guess. See Come the Revolution and Solemn Mysteries.


The song sometimes called “Stand To Your Glasses” originated in Calcutta, 1835, written by William Francis Thompson, a junior official in the Bengal Civil Service. Over the following decades, there were always places the verse could still strike a chord in servicemen with dangerous and dubious assignments. So the song evolved through WWI, WWII, Korea, and in my case,Vietnam, as protest seethed back home. 

“It’s not unusual for a combat soldier, sailor, or airman to feel abandoned or forgotten, especially when casualties have been high. Discussing such feelings provides a sense of catharsis… but of course, young men find it hard to talk about these things. Instead, they sometimes use music to express what they can’t otherwise say aloud. Just like they might sing their joys and their hopes, they use music to share their fears and doubts—and to remember those who have gone before them.” — Ron Wanttaja

Here are a few verses:

We meet ‘neath the sounding rafter
And the walls around are bare;
As they shout to our peals of laughter
It seems that the dead are there.
So stand to your glasses! steady!
We drink in our comrades’ eyes
A cup to the dead already–
Hurrah! for the next man that dies.

Not here are the goblets glowing,
Not here is the vintage sweet;
‘Tis cold, as our hearts are growing,
And dark, as the doom we meet.
But stand to your glasses! steady!
And soon shall our pulses rise;
Here’s a cup to the dead already–
Hurrah! for the next man that dies.

Who dreads to the dust returning?
Who shrinks from the sable shore,
Where the high and haughty yearning
Of the soul shall sting no more?
No! stand to your glasses! steady!
The world is a world of lies:
A cup to the dead already,
And hurrah! for the next man that dies. 

Cut off from the land that bore us,
Betrayed by the land we find,
When the brightest have gone before us,
And the dullest remain behind,
Stand! stand! to your glasses, steady!
‘Tis all we have left to prize;
One cup to the dead already–
Hurrah! for the next man that dies!