The roar of B-17 engines, and the importance of teaching children hymns

Happy Veteran’s Day!

The other day, as I was outside exercising, I heard a sound that instantly took me back to my childhood.

My apartment lies near the approach path for landing at one of the Asheville Airport runways, so I hear certain engine sounds all the time: The shrill whine of a commercial airline jet engine, the confident rhythm of a corporate plane turboprop, or the quieter sound of a personal Cessna out for a look at the fall colors.

Last weekend, though, the sound I heard was the throaty roar of four radial engines. I instantly knew, even without looking up, that a B-17 was flying by. Of course, though, I did look up, and paused what I was doing as a silent salute to a plane that had played such a crucial role in saving freedom as we knew it. There may have even been a tear or two.

Neither of my grandfathers was old enough to serve in World War II; both were in the service in the Korean War era. One was at Inchon; the other had an injury in training that left him mostly deaf and ended his military career prematurely.

But through my childhood, I found and became friends of World War II veterans frequently, at church and elsewhere. A remarkable number of them had flown in the B-17, so I took a particular interest in World War II aviation history in general and B-17 history in particular. In fact, as a child, I had even toured the very plane that stopped by the Asheville airport.

It seems that something that moves us as a child has the power, later in life, to stir some of the deepest emotions known to the human soul. I’m not enough of a scientist to go out and find reams of studies to back this up, but perhaps I don’t need them. Just watch people, and you don’t need science to prove the power of nostalgia.

This, perhaps, is part of the case for the importance of introducing children to hymns. Yes, of course, also introduce children to new songs that have a similarly solid theology. Perhaps the day will come when we will call some of these songs hymns, too. Every generation of Christian music has good songs, but hymns have been tested and proven in a uniquely pertinent way. The songs that resonate most deeply in the souls of believers are the ones we’ll keep requesting time and again. If a song has that staying power for several decades—for several generations—then we start to call it a hymn.

We can’t know at the outset, of course, whether a particular child raised in a Christian home will come to know the Lord at an early age, and remain a lifelong Christian. That is something we can certainly influence but cannot control. But there is one area where parents and other family members and close friends can have a decisive impact. What sort of songs is that child surrounded with? When that child is 35, or 45, or 55, or 65, what songs will stir the deep emotions that only come with something that has been familiar since childhood?

The hymns—the songs that have been tested and proven to have that staying power, for generations upon generations—should at least be some of those songs.

Scroll to Top