All Gave Some…Some Gave All

Yesterday, Sena and I drove out to Oak Hill Cemetery to get some snapshots and video clips of the new Coralville Veterans Memorial.  It’s still in progress, with plans for stone medallions from each branch of the military. Even now, it’s beautiful and inspiring.

That includes the inscription on the Tribute Walkway: All Gave Some…Some Gave All…

This quote has been attributed to Korean War veteran Howard William Osterkamp. It’s all over the internet that’s it originated with Sergeant Osterkamp, who was the recipient of the Purple Heart from wounds he suffered while in combat.

Because the words “has been attributed” made me curious (is there doubt?), I looked on the internet, which led to many blind alleys and side streets. Sena and I wanted to find out if the quote originated with Osterkamp, we looked for and found a couple of recordings of interviews with him that took place several years ago.

One of the recordings is in the Library of Congress in a collection called the Veterans History Project. It’s an 88-minute audio from an interview in 2008 and he says a lot about his military history between when he was drafted into the Army in 1951 to when he was discharged in 1953

Osterkamp says a lot that is arguably more interesting than even the quote often said to originate with him. But nowhere in it does he say “All gave some, some gave all.

The other recording is a YouTube interview posted in 2018. Osterkamp died in 2016 and it’s not clear to me when the interview was conducted. But it’s shorter and less punctuated by the details that made the audio recording so much longer, which was probably because it was to be part of the Veterans History Project.

It is in the YouTube version at around 44 minutes into the interview that Osterkamp says after describing the wounds he suffered, “that’s why they say ‘All gave some, some gave all…that’s a great slogan.”

Saying it that way probably means that the quote didn’t originate with him, although he did, indeed, say it.

I’m going to try to summarize the internet lore around this quote and then circle back to say why I think many people believe it originated with him.

If you just type the quote and hit the search button, you’re likely to get a lot of hits. One was in Special Ops web magazine, the author of which says Osterkamp originally said it. However, below the article is a comment from someone who says it probably was probably around before Osterkamp. He included a link to a May, 1952 newspaper article in about a veterans memorial planned progress for Electra, Texas. The article describes the proposed inscription:

“Dedicated to those who rendered service to their Country…all gave some…some gave all.”

I got to thinking about the ellipsis in that quote as well as the one at the new Coralville memorial. The ellipsis usually indicates something that is left out of a quote or passage in writing.

The bread crumbs were spreading out, leading me to a web site that mentioned a lot of different sources for the quote, none of which included Osterkamp. One of them was a book published in 1882, The Nineteenth Century, “Instructions to My Counsel” pg 988. I found this on the Internet Archive as well. The context appears to involve the history of the Egyptian history:

“The Egyptian people have made heavy sacrifices for the sake of (Pg. 989—ed.) securing to their country liberty, justice, and independence; some gave all they possessed, others the half, but all gave some mite to the National cause, as can be proved by letters and telegrams to the War Minister.” (Bold type mine).

The quote used today is in there, albeit with the two phrases switched. You could place ellipses between them and have the quote used today.

The internet lore doesn’t stop there. There is the song by Billy Ray Cyrus (1992), “Some Gave All” in the album of the same name. Cyrus has told the story about meeting a Vietnam veteran who inspired the song. He’s variously called Sand Cane or Kane, and he reportedly said to Cyrus some version of “After we got back from Vietnam, in rehab camp they told us, “All gave some, but some gave all.” The story changes slightly depending on who’s telling it.

There is even a stranger twist to the Kane story. In the comment section following a review of the best soldier songs, there’s an anecdote from someone who says he met a guy named Sandy Cain, a Vietnam vet who was promoting a song very similar to the one Cyrus wrote with the same title. He recorded it on a small label. The commenter evidently was in a band that recorded it for a radio station in Portsmouth Virginia in 1973 and wonders if it’s the same Sandy Kane (or Sandy Cane, the spelling of the name differs depending on who’s telling the story). It’s puzzling that Cyrus says he couldn’t find the veteran despite contacting state police to help look for him in 3 different states.

Okay, to return to why Sena and I think it probably doesn’t matter whether the quote “All gave some, some gave all” originated with Sergeant Howard William Osterkamp. Although in our opinion, based on our trek through internet lore, he did not create the phrase, it’s fair to say he certainly lived it. The recorded interviews are fascinating and we recommend they be used as the main references for Osterkamp and the Korean War.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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