These soldiers singing inside the Library of Congress will give you chills

The acoustics inside the iconic library carry the song to new, chilling heights.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film 1917 is when a British soldier sings “The Wayfaring Stranger” for his comrades in a forest before they go into battle. And now, soldiers in the Army National Guard have given us a remarkable rendition of that song and others from inside the Library of Congress.

The moments were captured on video by a Guard soldier named Stephen Hutto, who said the singing helped boost morale for soldiers on Capitol duty while they were taking a break the day after the presidential inauguration. Thousands of National Guard troops were called in to provide security in Washington after riots on Jan. 6 and are expected to remain until the end of March.

According to Hutto, soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division were inside the James Madison Building of the library taking a break from standing post outside in the bitter cold when they heard a woman’s voice begin to sing — a soldier named Spc. Harley Fairweather. When she finished, soldiers began calling out the name of Pfc. Paul McGiffin to sing in response. So McGiffin started to chant the theme to the videogame Halo and others joined in, realizing the acoustics of the room were perfect.

“After that, the other soldier from a different unit sang another song, so we just started going back and forth,” said McGiffin, an infantryman who investigates financial fraud as his day job. The singing ping-ponged for about 15 minutes. “Eventually one of the medics attached to us asked me if I knew the 1917 song. It was a pretty cool experience.”

In the video, soldiers are seen gathered around as McGiffin sings “The Wayfaring Stranger,” a classic American folk song of unknown origin.

“I am a poor wayfaring stranger,” the lyrics begin. “I’m travellin’ through this world of woe / Yet there’s no sickness, toil, nor danger / In that bright land to which I go / I’m going there to see my Father / I’m going there, no more to roam / I’m only going over Jordan / I’m only going over home.”

The song, which dates back to the 1800s, describes a person’s life’s journey and has been modified throughout history into gospel sermons, country melodies, and Civil War prison hymns. Johnny Cash covered the song late in his career. Then Ed Sheeran made his own about a decade later. And more recently, the song was put in at the end of The Last Of Us Part 2, a 2020 video game set in a post-apocalyptic United States.

This version was similar to one in 1917 performed by actor and singer Jos Slovick, though the acoustics inside the iconic research library for members of Congress carried the song to new, chilling heights. “It surprised all of us,” said Hutto. “Wow, I didn’t expect that. The whole room went silent.”

McGiffin, who investigates financial fraud for his day job, told Task & Purpose he’s enjoyed singing for many years and sang in the men’s chorus in high school. And he urged other soldiers to listen to folk music and learn songs they might use to cheer others up. “There’s [a song] for every circumstance and situation, and it never fails to boost morale,” McGiffin said.

Here he is singing an Irish folk song:

Hutto, who is back home in Texas now, also filmed the other soldier with an impressive singing voice, though he did not know her name. He shared another video of her singing:

Here are the lyrics to the ‘The Wayfaring Stranger’, according to Genius:

I am a poor wayfaring stranger

I’m travellin’ through this world of woe

Yet there’s no sickness, toil, nor danger

In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father

I’m going there, no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me

I know my way is rough and steep

But golden fields lie just before me

Where God’s redeemed shall ever sleep

I’m going home to see my mother

And all my loved ones who’ve gone on

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

I am a poor wayfarin’ stranger

I’m travellin’ through this world of woe

Yet there’s no sickness, toil, nor danger

In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father

I’m going there, no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

This story was updated after publication with additional reporting.

Related: ‘1917’ is the absolute best war movie in years

Paul Szoldra

Paul Szoldrais the Editor in Chief of Task & Purpose and Marine Corps veteran. Reach out at paul@taskandpurpose.com. Contact the author here.