Your Flag and My Flag

11.7.2021 [archived ~ originally published 11.17.2016]

The American Legion in Fergus Falls where I busy working on a novel, covered the city with flags for 2016 Veteran’s Day and nine other noted military days each year.

Those are the words in the first line of a poem written by Stafford King.  He was in his early twenties at the time, and as mentioned in last week’s column, was in the first group to leave our community for active duty during WWI.  And he wasn’t the only Deer Riverite with a gift with the pen.  There were three others that I discovered, wrote during the Great War: Henry Sword, William Byers and Erhard Sandgren,

I have dedicated this column to these poets, who all had their work published in the Itasca News, and at least three beyond our community.

          Our Flag

Your flag and my flag –

     May it float forever free

O’er your ship and my ship

     That sail upon the sea.

Your ship and my ship –

     May they sail forever on,

For you land and my land

     To lands beyond the dawn.

Your land and my land –

     May never come the hour

When your life and my life

     Be spent to give it power.

But our lives and our land,

     Our ships so may it be,

Are firmly pledged to our flag –

     It’s freedom of the seas.

            Stafford King 3-31-1917

Stafford, born on October 27, 1893 was the only child of Cyrus and Minnie.  Like many other Wright County farmers, the King family moved to the densely forested and sparsely populated Big Fork Valley to homestead in the early 1900s. After graduating from Deer River, Stafford attended the University of Minnesota.  Several important events happened for him in the spring of 1917.  In addition to publishing this poem, and enlisting, Stafford came home on leave and married Miss Bertha Breid, also of Deer River on June 30, 1917.  After the war, the Stafford and Bertha settled in St. Paul where they raised two children, Betty and Stanley.  Stafford worked in a variety of state and local government positions and was also active with the American Legion. In 1930 he won election as Minnesota State Auditor, a position he held for ten terms, retiring in 1969.  

Henry Milton Sword was born in Kentucky in 1878. Moving west, he found and married Miss Elsie Miller in Michigan.  After the birth of their first child, Clifford, the Sword family moved to Minnesota and settled the community of Mack. The first published poem I have found of his was from October 1915 and I have located another half dozen through 1919.  In addition to Clifford, the Swords raised five more children, Vivian, Margaret, Kathleen, Eugene, and Virginia.  Henry Sword died in December 1947 and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery.  It should be noted that the poem below was written just four days before the first recruits left the depot in Deer River.

The Price That Our Mothers Pay

A mother said to her boy – “Good bye,”

     As he kissed her and turned away,

To salute the flag, that was passing by

    On that tearful April day.

Her heart was aching but would not break

     As she heard the bugle call;

With sorrow that loves but sadly given,        

     She gave to her country – all.

God gave and God can demand again

     The priceless gift of noble sons

Of the patient mothers of men;

     But up from the depths of their bleeding hearts

There comes this piteous cry;

     Lord we brought them in pain at the gate of death

You may take them but tell us why.

A letter came from the front one day –

     From a comrade – who said goodbye –

The lonely heart that would not break

     But could only bleed and sigh.

He died with the bravest – the letter said –

     But the words grew strangely dim

To a mother who felt the hell of war

     But who’s faith looks up to Him—

Who gave and Who can demand again

     The priceless gift of noble sons

Of the patient mothers of men;

     But up from the depths of their bleeding hearts

There comes this piteous cry;

     Lord we brought them in pain at the gate of death

You may take them but tell us why.

            H.M. Sword, Mack, Minn. April 26, 1917

Seventeen-year-old William Byers not only wrote a political inspired song, but had it set to music by Leo Friedman, composer of the well-known tune, Let Me Call you Sweetheart! The Itasca News stated, “Mack has produced another poet laureate who has made his debut to the song world.  He is William A. Byers, a country boy in his ‘teens, and he has composed a national song, “The Kaiser’s Dream,” which he has had published and is now on sale at the City Drug store.”

The quarter page sized advertisement through the local drug store, printed the chorus:

While walking in the garden among the beds of flowers not growing on tender plants as other flowers do,

but perched upon the garden wall one caught his eye above the rest. 

It was the Stripes and Stars above the boys in blue.

I found the sheet music and will share a copy with anyone who is interested. In July 1918, when it was available locally, the music sold for 15 cents, or two for a quarter.  William was one of ten children, most which were born in Missouri.  In about 1915 the Byers family moved to Minnesota and settled in the Bowstring area.

And last, but not least is a poem by Erhard Alfred Sandgren which was first printed in an American Exploratory Forces newspaper or newsletter humor section.

After the Shells Had Ceased To Come ~ Itasca News 10-25-1919

“In a short time we will gather to celebrate Armistice Day, November 11th.  After that date the immediate danger of the big powerful shells was not considered so great and the soldier boy saw the dawn of a new day when he could once more, look upon ‘The shores where freedom reigns.’  But the days of waiting were long and tedious, and many were the boys who longed for home almost every hour that passed since hostilities ceased.  This, the Overseas Lad’s Prayer will prove.  This is supposed to be the A.E.F. Prayers as it appears in the book of Smiles.”

Overseas Lad’s Prayer

Our father who art in Washington

Baker be thy name,

Thy cable’s come,

Thy will be done in Brest as it is in Le Mans.

Give us this day, our long delayed pay

And forgive us our AWOLs

As we forgive the bugler, the mess sergeant, the YMCA, the field clerk and all those who wear bars,

And lead us not into the army of occupation

But deliver us from another service stripe

For thine is the Army, the Military Police, the Q.M.’s and the Field Clerk, forever and ever.

Oh men

I am for the American Legion.

                                    Erhard Sandgren

Erhard Alfred Sandgren was born in Sweden in 1889 and immigrated aboard the ship Ariosto when he was about 17 years old.  When he registered for the military, he was managing the theater in Deer River. Erhard traveled out west after coming back from the front, but returned to the area.   He was married and his wife died before they had any children.  Erhard lived the rest of his life in Deer River and is buried in the Pine Ridge Cemetery.

Regarding the last line, here is a little history of the American Legion. It is a wartime veterans’ organization which formed in Paris on March 16, 1919, by members of the American Expeditionary Forces. It was chartered by Congress on September 16, 1919. The veterans’ organization is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, and also has offices in Washington, D.C.

If you want the music for “The Kaiser’s Dream,” please let me know.  218-244-2127 or

1 Comment

  1. youngv2015 says:

    Interesting read. It’s interesting how poetry and historical events weave together.


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