Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, Shipmates

I'm thinking about the salts who stepped off before me, the sailors with whom I marched, and the Navy men and women who still follow the cadence of service and tradition.

May the parade never end.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Greetings from the CINCLANT Band, 1973

It was a quarter well-spent at a used records sale: "A Special Holiday Greeting From Danny Thomas and Your Local Navy Recruiter."

The 33RPM album is from 1973, full of Christmas music by the Naval Academy Band, various contingents of the U.S. Navy Band and the Bluejacket's Choir from Great Lakes.

One fleet band is represented: the Atlantic Fleet Band, Norfolk, Virginia, playing "Sleigh Ride." 

Here it is, in its monophonic glory. 

Does anyone remember recording this? Who's playing? Who's conducting?  

(Pick a media player that works in your browser.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December greetings to my MU family

Today is my birthday. I am sixty-one years old, pondering my place in a world that managed without me fairly well before my arrival in 1948, and will one day carry on again without my gifted leadership.

I'm also thinking about brotherhood, fellowship and camaraderie.

These are the results of more than sharing good times and beer. If beer were all that true brotherhood required, my lifelong friends would have been the grim, watery-eyed old men I met in Broadway Charlie's in 1974. Out of work in New York, I walked into a dive, spotted an upright piano, sat down and started to play. That night I was the Toast of Manhattan, playing "Toora. Loora, Loora" and "The Wiffenpoof Song" as I soaked up free beer and lofty compliments from my new best friends.

The next morning I was hung over, still broke, still alone and unemployed. After repeating this cycle for a few months, I signed some papers, took an oath and flew to Great Lakes.

The Navy was not all fun and good times. It was work, just like it was for the hull technicians and aviation metalsmiths, except our tools were tubas and clarinets instead of wrenches and blowtorches.

But, as the recruiting posters promised, it was more than a job. The Navy gave me camaraderie and purpose I've never felt in civilian life. Every gig, whether dining-in, ship arrival, change-of-command ceremony or high school concert, served to fulfill the Navy's needs. This was easy to forget, particularly when an inebriated, 23-year-old ensign who had been a humble officer candidate in the morning tried to run my band at the OCS Graduation Ball that night. But I knew I was serving in something important, something bigger than me.

I left the service unexpectedly and abruptly. I harbored some ill-will and tried to forget my former Navy identity. For a number of years I lived within a few hours of Virginia Beach, yet refused to contact old shipmates. Year after year, Terry Chesson, my old bandmaster, would call me and tell me about the Navy Musicians Association, about the fellowship and acceptance he found in that organization. Year, after year, I'd tentatively promise to tentatively give some thought to possibly thinking about possibly joining someday, maybe.

Finally, I caved and signed up. This was one of the best decisions of my life.

As a member of the NMA, my circle of shipmates is wider than ever. I belong to a worldwide fellowship of former and present MUs, some of whom are old friends, some of whom I never met while on active duty, some of whom I still haven't met in person.

Old gripes don't matter anymore. New gripes are rare and, because of a maturity that has come only with the passing years, trifling.

An NMA shipmate, Jack Rodway, and I got into a skirmish early this year. It was a simple matter of political differences, but little things can become magnified these days when it's easy to make the Internet Mistake: E-mail first, think later.

I, of course was the righteous party in the argument. I, after all, am compassionate, committed and concerned. After one of our members, Jim Thumpston, died last December, it was I who was in contact with his daughters in Virginia Beach, consoling them and inviting them to stop by our reunion to see their dad's old sea-buddies.

It was also I who was walking through the parking lot at the reunion in June when Jack Rodway beckoned to me from the lobby. I walked inside, and Jack introduced me to Jim Thumpston's daughters, with whom he, like me, had been in contact for months, consoling them and inviting them to stop by our reunion to see their dad's old sea-buddies.

That which unites shipmates is far greater than any differences. Remember when you were on the beach and a bozo from the deck division was trying to pick a fight? It was a trumpet player from your band who jumped in and bailed you out, the same guy you'd been ready to punch during rehearsal that morning.

My December 6 birthday has always made me aware of the solemnity of the following day. Never do I feel the deep brotherhood of Navy musicians more than when I think of the bandsmen who were serving in Pearl Harbor on that day in 1941 that still lives in infamy. The members of USS Arizona's Band 22, all of whom died at their battle stations, are now more than history to me; they are my family, as are the MUs who were on other ships at Pearl, as are you, my shipmates, and all who have worn the lyre.

If you are a former or present U.S. Navy musician who is still thinking about joining the Navy Musicians Association, I urge you to sign up. A new year is approaching, and the San Antonio reunion is only six months away. You'll find information on joining the NMA here.

There's no requirement that you put it off for years; why wait decades to find out that maybe, just maybe, your old chief isn't such an S.O.B. after all?