A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 25, 2015
“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press”

"It is the soldier” is the start of several lines that are frequently recited on Memorial Day. The authorship is disputed.

A letter to the St, Petersburg (FL) Times in 1991 by Paul G. Gillespie contained these lines:

“People seem to forget that the soldier, not the journalist, has preserved the freedom of the press. The soldier, not the poet, has preserved freedom of speech. The soldier, not the campus organizer, has preserved the freedom to demonstrate.”

Father Denis Edward O’Brien (1923-2002), M.M., of St. Pius X in Casa View, Dallas, had this Memorial Day invocation cited in the Dallas (TX) Morning News of June 13, 1993:

“It is the soldier , not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Ann Landers repeated the lines and credited Father O’Brien in a November 1999 syndicated newspaper column.

Wikiquote claims that Charles Michael Province, a veteran of the U.S. Army, first came up with the lines, with a claimed copyright of 1970. There is no documentary evidence that Charles Province had the lines as early as 1991 or 1993.

[This entry was prepared with research assistance from Bill Mullins and Garson O’Toole,of the American Dialect Society and the Quote Investigator.]


Semper Fi Catholic Forum
Memoria in Aeterna
Rev. Denis E. O’Brien was born on October 8, 1923.
(...)
In 1988 Father O’ Brien returned to the United States and became a “Priest in Residence” at St. Pius X Parish in Dallas. He went on to serve as the Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus Council 799, National Chaplain to the First Marine Division Association and local Chaplain to its Dallas Chapter, National Spiritual Director to the American Life League, and he worked tirelessly to protect human life from conception to natural death.

Father O’ Brien died of cancer on August 29, 2002 at 8:00am, holding a first class relic of his Patron Saint, St. Bernadette of Lourdes. Father O’ Brien was 78 years old and had been a Maryknoll priest for 49 years.
(...)
It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.
By: Father Denis Edward O’Brien M.M. USMC

3 February 1991, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “Letters,” pg. 3D:
People seem to forget that the soldier, not the journalist, has preserved the freedom of the press. The soldier, not the poet, has preserved freedom of speech. The soldier, not the campus organizer, has preserved the freedom to demonstrate. Young people today speak of peace - I ask you what is peace without freedom? The point, of course, is that a real peace must include freedom, and, for the time being, we must maintain armed forces to ensure that freedom.
Paul G. Gillespie, Clearwater

13 June 1993, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Semper Fidelis isn’t just a motto for him by Jim Wright,” pg. 7J:
Father O’Brien (Father Denis E. O’Brien, M.M., of St. Pius X in Casa View—ed.) has no problems reconciling his life as a man of the cloth these past 40 years and those early years when he was a man of the Corps. As he made clear in these words of his Memorial Day invocation for the sacrifices by all the young Americans who have fought for their country:

“It is the soldier , not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

29 March 1996, Texas City (TX) Sun, “Letters,” pg. 4, cols. 3-4:
Editor: As used here the term soldier is used to represent all servicemen who have in the past and are now standing in harm’s way in the name of freedom. These things they do that others may be free. It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press; It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech; It is the soldier, not the campus organizer who gives us freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier not the preacher who allows us to worship as we see fit; It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath its majesty, whose blood defends it from all enemies, whose coffin is draped by the flag, and who allows the protester to burn the flag. For without the soldier, sailor, Marine and airman there would be no freedom and our Constitution would just be another scrap of paper.
Bob Dambach
Dickinson

Google Groups: can.politics
Stuff on the NCC
Ken M
6/28/96
(...)
It is the soldier, not the reporter
That gives us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet
That gives us freedom of expression.

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer
That gives us the right to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, not the lawyer
That gives us the right to a fair trial.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag.
It is the soldier who serves under the flag.
It is the soldier who has the flag draped on his coffin
So that protestors may burn the flag.

- Province

Google News Archive
3 July 1997, McCook (NE) Daily Gazette, pg. 4, col. 1:
The Soldier
It has always been the Soldier:

It is the Soldier
not the President who gives us democracy;
It is the Soldier
not Congress who defends our Nation;
It is the Soldier
not the Reporter who has given us Freedom of the Press;
It is the Soldier
Not the Poet who has given us Freedom of Speech
It is the Soldier
not the Campus Organizer who has given us the Freedom to Demonstrate
It is the Soldier,
who salutes the Flag,
who serves beneath the Flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the Flag,
that allows the protester to burn the Flag:
It is the Soldier, always the soldier.

Google News Archive
11 November 1999, Wilmington (NC) Morning Star, “Dear Ann: Veterans deserve thanks every day” by Ann Landers, pg. 2D, cols. 5-6:
And now, dear readers, here is a provocative piece by a clergyman who is also a member of the U.S. Marine Corps: Veterans Day by Father Denis Edward O’Brien, USMC

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

The Library of Congress—Thomas
Congressional Record
108th Congress (2003-2004)

March 19, 2003
Pg. H1969:
Mr. MEEK of Florida. Mr. Speaker:
It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who has given us freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, Who Salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.’’
-- [Charles M. Province]

Texas Monthly
An Early Internet Meme Found Its Way Onto a Houston World War II Memorial
Digging into the provenance of a provocative message carved into a shrine to fallen soldiers.

BY JOHN NOVA LOMAX
DATE JUN 14, 2019
(...)
Province tells me in our email exchange that he wrote the poem while he was in the Army in the 1960s. Maybe Gillespie, the Florida letter writer, read or heard it spoken and mailed it to his local paper with “give” changed to “preserve.” Maybe. But where did O’Brien get hold of it? Was he visiting Florida in 1991? Did Gillespie’s letter run elsewhere? Right now, those are questions without answers, because if there’s printed proof that Province wrote that poem earlier than 1991, he did not furnish it to me. (Language maven and onetime Texan Barry Popik presented this fact on his website in 2015 in his entry on “It Is the Soldier,” and Province has not disputed that, either.) Nor did Province have an answer when I asked him why he didn’t speak up when his work was published in Ann Landers’s column twice under O’Brien’s name.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, May 25, 2015 • Permalink