A new hymn written for Army veterans, “Ever Faithful to the Call," exists because its author survived a close call during the Vietnam War.
Hovering in a helicopter so soldiers could rappel onto the battlefield during the Battle of Hamburger Hill, Capt. Tom Lough felt death was near.
Seventy-two American soldiers died and 372 were wounded in May of 1969 during the battle on Dong Ap Bia mountain in central Vietnam. Lough was nearly number 73.
His helicopter took fire and went into a tailspin.
“The image of a sitting duck definitely comes to mind,” said Lough, 79, who had already enjoyed a career as an Olympic athlete at that point and would go on to write a hymn for Army veterans.
“I was in the cargo area of the Huey (helicopter),” he remembered. “And I said to myself, ‘So this is what it's like to die.’”
Lough remained calm during the experience. He credits his United Methodist faith for that.
“I could calmly manage and process what was going on and be aware of the things that were happening because death is a fantastic transition into everlasting life,” Lough said. “I wanted to be alert for that transition if it was coming up for me, so I could experience it to the fullest.”
Because he survived, Lough reevaluated his life and came to the conclusion he needed take “any gifts that I might have been given, to develop those to the fullest potential.” He felt he had a gift for music and potential as a songwriter.
“Ever Faithful to the Call" is Lough’s shot at giving the Army its own hymn, like "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" is for the Navy and “Lord, Guard and Guide the Men Who Fly” for the Air Force.
The Army, strangely, doesn’t have its own hymn. It does have an official song, "The Army Goes Rolling Along.”
“I'm a West Point graduate and of course we have a fierce rivalry with the Naval Academy,” Lough said. “My wife said, ‘Well, listen, quit grousing about this and just go ahead and write (a hymn for the Army).’”
“Ever Faithful to the Call” can be downloaded along with a license for nonprofit use. The author is hopeful that church music leaders will use it for Veterans Day events and worship services.
“I think veterans experience things in their lives that people who haven't served in the military maybe don't readily relate to,” said the Rev. Pat McCain, executive pastor of First United Methodist Church in Round Rock, Texas, where Lough is a member.
McCain, also a veteran, said Lough’s hymn “resonated with the heart of our military veterans.”
Lough debuted the hymn during an annual potluck dinner held at the Texas church around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. About 20 veterans and their spouses enjoyed potluck staples such as deviled eggs and Jello salad before hearing a recording of “Ever Faithful to the Call.”
“You could tell by the tears that welled up in people's eyes, as well as the look on their faces as well as the conversation that took place afterwards, that the hymn resonated with a deep part of their soul,” McCain said.
Lough, who grew up in Elkton, Virginia, is a lifelong United Methodist. His father was the son of a preacher.
“I was part of the community chorus and the choir growing up in the church,” Lough said. “I was in the West Point Glee Club and Cadet Chapel Choir at West Point. Wherever I served in the military, I tried to find some way to serve, either as a choir member or sometimes I was the organist.”
Lough is working on a song inspired by his athletic career. He competed in the Modern Pentathlon in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He and his two teammates almost won a medal, finishing fourth.
“It's an unlikely combination of horseback riding over jumps, fencing, pistol, shooting, swimming and cross country running,” he said. “It turned out that I'm not really good at anything athletically. But I'm average or a little above average in lots of things athletically, and an Olympic event like that seems to be almost tailor made for someone like me.”
He’s approached his life the same way, “trying different things and combinations.”
“To my delight … I have a little bit of skill in (music) I can develop and actually make a contribution, and that's very fulfilling personally and professionally. … It's very fulfilling spiritually as well, that some of the work that I'm doing is actually benefiting others and adding and enriching their worship experience.”
This story was posted November 3, 2021.
Jim Patterson is a Nashville freelance writer. Contact him by email.