Old soldiers never die

"Old soldiers never die" is an English language catchphrase, with the full version being "Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away". It is made from a stanza from the soldiers' folklore song Old Soldiers Never Die:

Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die,
They simply fade away.[1]

The song itself is a British Army's parody of the gospel song Kind Thoughts Can Never Die.[2]

In the United States, the phrase was used by general Douglas MacArthur in his April 19, 1951 farewell address to the U.S. Congress (which has become known the "Old Soldiers Never Die" speech):[3][4]

... but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away."

And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.

The phrase generated a host of joke snowclones, such as:[5]

  • Old programmers never die, they just branch to a new address
  • Old policemen never die, they just cop out
  • Old pilots never die, they just go to a higher plane.
  • Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way.

In a 1980 interview with Barbara Walters on ABC's program 20/20, former president Richard Nixon paraphrased MacArthur and the catchphrase for himself by saying "Old politicians usually die, but they never fade away."[6]


  1. ^ Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War, collected by Martin Pegler, ISBN 9781472804150, p. 123; an update of John Brophy and Eric Partridge's Songs and Slang of the British Soldier (1930)
  2. ^ 1894-1979., Partridge, Eric (1985). A dictionary of catch phrases : British and American, from the sixteenth century to the present day. Beale, Paul. (2nd. ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0203379950. OCLC 57445962.
  3. ^ ""Old Soldiers Never Die" (Farewell Address to Congress)--General Douglas MacArthur (April 19, 1951) ", an essay at the Library of Congress
  4. ^ "Old Soldiers Never Die", a University of Kent webpage
  5. ^ Lucy Blackman, Have You Heard the One About: Aging, 2005, ISBN 0595370721
  6. ^ ABC home video: "Dark Days at the White House: The Watergate Scandal and the Resignation of President Richard M. Nixon"

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