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Updated 04/30/2013


Heave Ho! My Boys, Heave Ho!

Heave Ho! My Boys, Heave Ho! Is the official song of the United States Merchant Marines.  The United States Merchant Marine is made up of the nation's civilian-owned merchant ships and the men and women that crew them. The merchant marine transports cargo and passengers during peace time. In time of war, the merchant marine is an auxiliary to the Navy, and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies for the military.

The people of the merchant marine are called merchant mariners, and are civilian except in times of war when, in accordance with the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, they are considered military personnel. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill into law making Merchant Mariners who serve in war veterans.

The first wartime role of an identifiable United States Merchant Marine first took place on June 12, 1775 in and around Machias, Maine. A group of citizens, hearing the news from Concord and Lexington, captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta. The citizens, in need of critical supplies, were given an ultimatum: either load the ships with lumber to build British barracks in Boston, or go hungry. They chose to fight.

The Merchant Marine was active in subsequent wars, from the Confederate commerce raiders of the American Civil War, to the First and Second Battle of the Atlantic in World War I and World War II. 3.1 million tons of merchant ships were lost in World War II, mariners dying at a rate of 1 in 24. All told, 733 American cargo ships were lost and 8,651 of the 215,000 who served perished on troubled waters and off enemy shores. 

Merchant shipping also played its role in the wars in Vietnam and Korea. From just six ships under charter when the Korean war began, this total peaked at 255. In September 1950, when the U.S. Marine Corps went ashore at Inchon, 13 USNS cargo ships, 26 chartered American, and 34 Japanese-manned merchant ships, under the operational control of Military Sea Transportation Service participated in the invasion.

During the Vietnam War, ships crewed by civilian seamen carried 95% of the supplies used by the American Armed Forces. During the first Gulf War, the merchant ships of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) delivered more than 11 million metric tons of vehicles, helicopters, ammunition, fuel and other supplies and equipment during the war. Government owned merchant vessels from the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) have supported emergency shipping requirements in seven wars and crises.  Since 1977, the Ready Reserve Fleet has taken over the brunt of the work previously handled by the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

The music and words were written by Jack Lawrence (above), Lt. (jg) USMS to the men at the United States Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York and copyrighted in 1943.  Although he had no musical training, he wrote his first published song, Play Fiddle Play, the same year he became a Podiatrist. 

Rejecting his parents' dream that he become a foot doctor, the Brooklyn-bred Mr. Lawrence who was born Jack Lawrence Schwartz began writing lyrics straight out of school, hitting it big with "Play, Fiddle, Play" in 1932, his first published song. He went on to write words, and sometimes music, for several number one hits. His songs were recorded by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Harry James, Bobby Darin and the Ink Spots, who had their first hit in 1939 with "If I Didn't Care," perhaps Mr. Lawrence's most memorable composition.

In 1948, he had one of his biggest successes when he put English words to the French hit song "La Mer." The result was "Beyond the Sea," a smash for Darin and now a standard.

The 1941 Broadway revue Crazy With the Heat featured his song "Yes, My Darling Daughter." He wrote the entire score for 1951's Courtin' Time, which was directed by Alfred Drake and lasted a month, and I Had a Ball, the 1964 Buddy Hackett vehicle. His "Bring on the Girls" and "Music for Madame" were heard in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1957.

An early attempt at producing, the 1958 comedy Maybe Tuesday, did not go well, but Mr. Lawrence had more success with Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music and Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in the early '80s. In 1983, he bought the Playhouse Theatre on W. 48th Street and renamed it the Jack Lawrence Theatre. Mr. Lawrence's son, Richard, redesigned the space to include a 199-seat theatre, the Audrey Wood, named for the late writers' agent. It played host to The Golden Age, Quilters, So Long on Lonely Street and Asinamali!, before Mr. Lawrence sold it to developers in 1987.

He died March 15, 2009 in Danbury, CT.


Lyrics by Jack Lawrence

Its a long, long way to go,
Its a long, long pull with our hatches full,
Braving the wind, braving the sea,
Fighting the treacherous foe,

Let the sea roll high or low,
We can cross any ocean, sail any river,
Give us the goods and well deliver.

Damn the submarine!
Were the men of the Merchant Marine!