ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - In basic training, every recruit learns that a young Soldier by the name of Pvt. Willie Lee Duckworth is credited with creating the original "Sound Off" also known as the Duckworth Chant in cadence calling.
Few realize, however, that Duckworth was a black Soldier from Sandersville, Ga., who created the chant to build up the morale of foot-weary troops on an extended march through rough, swampy country.
According to Army historian Ed Grisamore, Duckworth was raised by his grandparents in a sharecropper's house. He was working in a saw mill when he was drafted during World War II and assigned to a provisional training center at Fort Slocum, N.Y.
The night Duckworth began his chant, leaders noticed a remarkable change in the marching troops.
According to historical records, there was a spring in their step as they responded to Duckworth's chant. It caught the attention of Col. Bernard Lentz, the post commander who along with the training center instructors helped Duckworth compose a series of verses and choruses to be used with the marching cadence.
The Duckworth Chant caught on Army-wide. It proved to be not only a tremendous morale booster during marches, but also helped coordinate the movements of close-order drill with troop precision.
In 1944, a V-Disc recording credited Duckworth as the originator of the Sound Off or Duckworth Chant. A V-Disc was a World War II-era record label produced by special arrangement between the U.S. government and various private U.S. record companies.
The records were created for American military personnel overseas.
Theses 12-inch, 78 rpm gramophone recordings were created between 1943 and 1949. The "V" stands for "Victory."
The original cadence was recorded as "Sound Off" with a lead chant and response:
(Cadence count;) 1-2-3-4, 1-2 - 3-4.
The chant eventually evolved into what became known as today's Jody call, with "Jody" being a fictitious character who steals a Soldier's sweetheart while he's away.
Popular versions go:
"Ain't no use in goin' home.
Jody's got your gal and gone.
Three, four ...
With those words and others, Duckworth unknowingly cemented his place in U.S. military history.
During an interview celebrating his 78th birthday, Duckworth said the chant came from calling hogs at home.
"It made me famous for a while," he said. "And, it put some money in my pocket."
Upon his passing in 2004, the Georgia House of Representatives dedicated a portion of SR 242 in Washington County as the Willie Lee Duckworth Highway in his honor.