Sunday, July 30, 2006

We Serve With Honor

It was my pleasure, at the 2006 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association, to read "We Serve With Honor" while Wilbur Smith conducted the NMA Concert Band in Carmen Dragon's arrangement of "America, the Beautiful." A number of people who were present have asked me about that reading: where it came from, where it can be found.

MUs who served in the 1960s may--or may not--remember "We Serve With Honor." It was printed on the back of their liberty cards, along with "Guardian of our Country" and "The Future of the Navy.

These three statements also appeared in the front pages of Navy training manuals. Naturally, nobody never noticed them; as the saying goes, if you want to hide something from a sailor, put in in his textbook.

But somewhere, sometime in the Sixties, an MU noticed "We Serve With Honor." And that bandsman or conductor made a fortuitous discovery.

Carmen Dragon published his band arrangement of "America, the Beautiful" in 1963. It's a good bet that it made its way quickly into the libraries of military bands. The arrangement is stirring, well-scored and, not incidently, playable. For many, Carmen Dragon's version is not just an arrangement of "America, the Beautiful"; it is "America, the Beautiful."

That unknown MU must have agreed. He discovered that "We Serve With Honor" could be read aloud to coincide with the phrasing of the second chorus of Dragon's arrangement. It must have had as captivating an effect on audiences as it does now, for the tradition was passed from band to band.

I first read "We Serve With Honor" at Navy Band San Francisco in 1976, our nation's bicentennial year. Navy bands were swamped with requests for patriotic concerts, the frenzy continuing past Independence Day--I recall performing five concerts in five locations on the 5th of July.

But even when the the band was exhausted and not at its best, we could count on "America, the Beautiful" and "We Serve With Honor" to bring an audience to its feet.

That's what I know about the tradition. Here's the text:


Tradition, valor, and victory are the Navy’s heritage from the past. To these may be added dedication, discipline, and vigilance as the watchwords of the present and the future.

At home or on distant stations we serve with pride, confident in the respect of our country, our shipmates, and our families.

Our responsibilities sober us; our adversities strengthen us. Service to God and Country is our special privilege. We serve with honor.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Speaking with Wilbur Smith before the NMA concert band rehearsal, I asked if I should do the reading in the past tense, since we're no longer on active duty.

"For instance," I suggested, "'Our adversities strengthened us...We served with honor.'"

Wilbur didn't wait a second before replying, "No: do it as written, present tense."

"You're sure?" I asked.

"Yes, " he said. "We're still serving."

Thanks for the reminder, Smitty.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Reunion Remembered

Although it's been a month since I returned from the 2006 reunion of the Navy Musicians Association in Louisville, a day has not gone by that I haven't found myself recalling the joy of seeing old shipmates and making new friends.

The NMA is an organization of MUs: retirees, one-hitchers, in-betweeners like me (13 years of fun in the sun), and even a few active-duty Navy musicians. This was the first NMA reunion I've attended, and I was astounded by the cameraderie and music that are the hallmarks of annual reunions:
  • Big band rehearsals throughout the day.
  • Jam sessions at night.
  • Sea stories 'round the clock.
The Holiday Inn provided us with group rates (over 200 members, spouses and guests attended), as well as rooms for rehearsal, registration and display of memorabilia. Management also met the major, inflexible requirement of an NMA reunion: we take over the hotel bar for the week.

Our rhythm section gear remains set up in the lounge for the duration of our stay. Each evening, sometime after dinner, MUs begin drifting in. After some tall-tale-telling, a pianist spots a bassist, the two of them nab a drummer and the trio steps up to the bandstand for a few tunes. This is what the horn players have been waiting for. They put down their Miller Lites, pick up their axes and join in. The place is filling up, the MUs performing, taking in the music, telling sea stories--and the evening has just begun.

We had concerts, clinics, even a day-trip to the race track. The reunion culminated with a Saturday evening banquet that featured a patriotic opening by the NMA Concert Band and dance music by the NMA's own big band.

As a crusty old warrant officer asked me during the evening, "Who would have thought that, 30 years later, we'd be getting misty playing 'Anchors Aweigh' again?"

If you do not belong to the Navy Musicians Association, you can get more information--and download photos from the last few reunions--at the NMA website.

I urge you to consider joining us at the next NMA reunion: you will enjoy it!
Frank Mullen, USN 1974-1987

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Service Record: Frank Mullen III

NOV74-FEB75: Boot Camp, Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

Highlights included:

  • No bowel movement for the first ten days.
  • Arrived late to chow hall on Thanksgiving for holiday dinner of cold hot dogs and Jello.
  • Threw up during a training movie featuring extreme close-up shots of what can happen to your weenie when you consort with loose women while on liberty.
    • FEB75-JUN75: School of Music, Basic Course.

      Noteworthy achievement:

      • Named "Student of the Month" despite documented record of instrumental practice averaging 30 seconds per week.

      JUN75-MAY77: Navy Band San Francisco.

      Special mention by Commanding Officer, Naval Support Activity SanFran, after surprise inspection of enlisted barracks:

      • "Seaman Mullen's room is the filthiest space I have seen in 27 years in the Navy."

      MAY77-JUN78: Navy Band Newport.


      • As keyboard player for rock band Long Island Sound: break up fights.
      • As staff arranger: come to work on paydays.

      JUL78-DEC78: School of Music, Intermediate Course.


      • Reamed out by MUCM Jim Thumpston less frequently than other classmates.

      JAN79-JAN82: School of Music, piano instructor.

      Collateral duties:

      • Dirty Tricks Petty Officer: directed midnight raid on Army barracks that resulted in 300 soldiers waking up on the morning of the annual Army/Navy game with high hopes and no toilet paper.
      • Change-for-a-dollar Petty Officer of the Command: maintained adequate stock of coins so officers could purchase peanut butter cups from vending machines.
      • Petty Officer in Charge of Shaking Commanding Officer's Hand With Joy Buzzer While Receiving "Staff Member of the Year" award: self-explanatory.

      JAN82-JUN85: Navy Band Newport.

      Major achievements:

      • Developed miniature golf course in band office area. Operated tournaments culminating in sudden-death playoffs on the 18th hole, a par-4, teeing off from passageway outside gear locker, followed by blind dog-leg through MUCM Davenport's office, a risky rebound off the the wall into bandmaster's office and delicate chip-shot into the styrofoam coffee cup under Mr. Chesson's desk.

      JUL85-JAN86: School of Music, Advanced Course.


      • No.


      • Inability to control baton in subdivided 6/8 pattern due to weakness caused by loss of blood after being repeatedly stabbed in back by conducting instructor.

      FEB86-AUG87: 7TH Fleet Band, Yokosuka, Japan.

      Primary Responsibility:

      • Conduct band at concerts and ceremonies before high-ranking dignitaries.