Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's no wonder NMA bands are so good

During the last Navy Musicians Association reunion, I began to suspect that some members have been practicing their instruments during the year.

I had no proof of this, as many musicians are loathe to confess to such chicanery. I decided to search for evidence.

The situation turns out to be far more serious than I thought. I have found proof that certain NMA members are actually performing, both professionally and as members of academic and volunteer musical organizations. I suspect, but cannot yet prove, that some NMA members even lead these musical ensembles.

I submit, for example, this video of NMA member Rabbit Simmons performing with a jazz group in Cocoa Beach, Fla. last August.

Rest assured, friends, any time I find conclusive evidence of between-reunion performing by NMA members, I will post it here. Perhaps a little old-fashioned shame will keep these guys in line.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thanks for the memories.

One day in December of 1975, a trombone player banged on my barracks door, shouting,"Liberty is cancelled! Jump in your dungarees and get to rehearsal: we're doing Bob Hope's Christmas show tonight!"

It was news to me. In fact, it was news to all of Navy Band San Francisco. But when it came to entertaining American troops, Bob Hope got what he wanted, and what he wanted was to perform that night at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. Some travel snafu had given him an unscheduled day off, and, instead of resting, this show business legend had found a worthy audience. Not having his band with him, he called the nearest military band and said, like they did in those old movies:

"Let's put on a show."

And we did. Hope's manager delivered the charts to the band spaces, MUCS Skip Poole rehearsed us and, that night, led us in accompanying Bob Hope and his cast of supporting acts before an audience of wounded warriors in wheelchairs and rolling hospital beds.

Bob Hope's Christmas Tour of Asia and the Pacific, mid-'60s. Advance
to 48:00:00 to see Bob's shows on USS Ranger and USS Coral Sea.

Imagine what would have happened if the Hope organization, wanting to entertain troops on the spur of the moment, had been required to call a music contractor and say, "Can you give me an 18-piece band for a rehearsal in 45 minutes and two-hour performance tonight, no pay, no travel expenses, no cartage fees?"

Don't tell me Navy bands are fluff. They do thing civilian bands couldn't dream of.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Yes, we still remember

On Veterans Day, the Rock Island Argus and Moline Dispatch published a column I wrote about a young MU from my area, Jerry Cox, who died, with all of Band 22, on USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (I've posted it here.)

Recently, I got a letter from a man who read the column, telling me he remembers Jerry Cox from his childhood. In the '30s and early '40s, when he was a youngster, his father ran a neighborhood grocery store in East Moline. Jerry Cox lived down the street and stopped at the store often, a big kid with a lot of musical talent.

He said he was surprised at the memories the column brought back. Mostly, though, he was surprised that, after all the years that have passed since Musician 2/C Gerald Cox died, anyone would remember him.

I've written back and told my correspondent that the story of Band 22's sacrifice has always been remembered by those who have served in U.S. Navy bands. We remember that Navy musicians were among the first American troops in World War II to give their lives. We remember that "in harm's way" is not a destination unkown to Navy bands. We remember that bands are not mere decorations, trifling sequins and ribbons to be admired and discarded, but binding threads woven into the very fabric of the Navy.

How can we not remember?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Loose lips, et cetera

If you're concerned about the future of Navy music--cutbacks, budgeting woes--then put on your smart hat and watch what you say about Navy music around here.

Navy Lyres is a very public place, receiving hundreds and sometimes thousands of visits per week from MUs--active duty, former and retired--as well as a surprisingly large number of readers with no direct affiliation with Navy music. But my super-secret tracking software tells me where visitors are located. A lot of blips on the map are in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area.

My basic editorial principle is: I print what I want. But what I want is pretty wide open. Basically, I deep-six only comments that are commercial, irrelevant, vulgar or defamatory. Defamation made simple: Saying "I worked for a chief who was a fat idiot" is one thing; "Chief Smithers is a fat idiot" is quite something else.

So, watch what you say. My previous post, The Shipmate I never met, drew some comments from an anonymous visitor who appears to be an active duty MU who is concerned about the future of Navy music, possible funding cutbacks and, therefore, his or her job. He might as well have written to his congressman.

Just a reminder, shipmates: this is a public place. They're reading this in Washington. Oh, did I say that already?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The shipmate I never met

Originally published in
Rock Island Argus
Moline Dispatch
November 11, 2010

Today, I'm remembering a local boy, Jerry Cox.

Jerry and I never met. We grew up in different parts of the country at different times. But the bonds between veterans of the same units, specialties and experiences extend beyond time and place. Jerry Cox and I were both Navy musicians; in a sense, we are shipmates.

Vets understand this. Readers without military experience will have to accept that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe the ties felt by those who have shared service and sacrifice.

His ship's log tells us Gerald Clinton Cox was born in Wisconsin and studied at the Racine Conservatory of Music. His parents moved the family to the Quad-Cities while he was still a kid. He must have been a talented musician; after graduating from high school in East Moline, he was accepted for enlistment in the Navy as a musician. Jerry played the guitar and clarinet, important instruments in the jazz he played so well.

After boot camp at Great Lakes and Music School in Washington, DC, Jerry was sent to serve on a battleship with one of the best military bands in the Pacific, Band 22. The music was good, America was at peace and Musician Second Class Cox had found his place in the Navy.

He lived aboard ship with his fellow bandsmen. No doubt, they laughed together and fought with each other. The ship's newspaper recorded their nicknames: "Brick," "Swede,""Mad Russian," "Flatfoot Floogie."

One warm autumn Sunday morning, as their ship lay in harbor, Band 22 was formed on deck, playing Morning Colors. Jerry and his shipmates were probably still half asleep; they may have been out late on liberty the night before, checking out a concert by another Navy band against which they were competing in a spectacular, fleet-wide Battle of the Bands. Fortunately for night owls, Morning Colors is not a challenging gig, once you wipe the sleep from your eyes. You play a few marches until, at precisely eight a.m., the bugler sounds "Attention" and the band performs the National Anthem. The flag is briskly hoisted and a new Navy day begins. It's stirring for the onlooker, but no big deal for the band.

But it was a big deal that Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941. Shortly before eight, the flames of hell engulfed Pearl Harbor, where Band 22 stood on the deck of the USS Arizona.

As the klaxon call to General Quarters screamed throughout the ship, the members of Band 22 did what every sailor, gunner's mate, engineman, navigator or musician, was trained to do: they ran to their battle station.

Battle station for Band 22 was the Arizona's ammunition hold.

Within a few minutes, one of the enemy's armor-piercing bombs penetrated the deck. Death in the ammunition hold was immediate. The massive explosion killed all of Band 22 and sent the Arizona to the bottom of Pearl Harbor, along with most of her crew.

Veterans Day is set aside so we may remember all who have worn our country's uniform, whether fighting a war or protecting a peace. When we envision these defenders, they are giants in our minds, grizzled warriors of battleship proportions. But many were kids, fresh off the family farm or city block. The average age of the members of USS Arizona's band was 21.

They were kids, yes, but at their battle stations in Arizona's ammunition hold, the members of Band 22 were men.

Sleep peacefully, Jerry, my shipmate. You too, Swede, Brick, Flatfoot.

I remember you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Veterans Day, 2010: Duty, Honor, Conundrum

With only a few days to go, I'm still working on the speech I will deliver on the Mercer County, Illinois courthouse lawn at the Veterans Day ceremony on November 11.

Okay, calm down. Deep breathing worked for me, it'll work for you. Here's what happened:

For the last few years, I've been writing a weekly column for a few newspapers in western Illinois. The Quad Cities Area may not be the center of the universe, but it is the second-largest media market in the Illinois.

I write humor, mostly, but sometimes I slide into the area of military and patriotic matters. Over the last year I've published columns about the contribution the Navy's bands make toward its mission, the difficult choices a military bandleader faces when rain threatens an outdoor concert and my return from last Navy Musicians Association reunion, culminating in my arrival at Moline International Airport, where I was met by cheering crowds, banners and bands, only to realize the crowd was waiting to meet an Honor Flight returning from Washington.

I'm not trying to blow fanfares on the Frank-horn. The point is, I've become sort of, well, famous, in this part of the country.

I'll admit it's sort of fun to be recognized here and there. People will stop me on the street and ask if I'm Frank Mullen. I generally confess. Older shipmates will remember when Ed Sullivan used to interrupt his show by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, sitting in the audience tonight is the star of the Toast of Broadway, Fontella LaBoomBoom. Stand up and take a bow, Fontella." This has actually happened to me a few times at public concerts. At Rock Island's Independence Day performance by Horizon, the pop contingent for Navy Band Great Lakes, the band acknowledged me from the stage. It was quite a feeling, though I might quibble with being called a "patriot."

But my sort-of-fame has now gone as far as it needs to go. This year, the officers of Mercer County, Illinois, Post 1571 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars have invited me to be the guest speaker at their public Veterans Day ceremony.

On receiving the invitation, a part of me, I'll admit, exulted with delight; Frank Mullen was now to be acknowledged as the Great American he has always known himself to be. Bos'un, pipe "Attention"; sideboys, man the side.

That fantasy didn't last long. The fact is, being asked to speak at the Veterans Day observance is an honor I don't deserve, an honor I haven't earned and an honor I can't turn down.

But honor sometimes includes responsibility.

This honor is not about me. It's about those who have marched before me, beside me, and those who will follow.

I can do this. I can write the speech. I can, in fact, write a powerful speech.

The problem is, the better the speech, the less the chance that I'll be able to get through the whole thing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A few changes

You'll notice Navy Lyres has a new look.

Not better. New.

But, you'll notice I have given myself a better, new title. Originally, I was the "Host," but that made Navy Lyres sound like a talk show. I became your "Webmaster," which seemed menial. Since there's only one guy on this totem pole, why should I be at the bottom?

I decided to put myself on top. I have promoted myself to Commodore of Navy Lyres.

Some may wonder why, since I'm handing out promotions so freely, I didn't make myself some sort of admiral. Well, remember when you got a lousy evaluation and the brass tried to soften the blow by telling you that your toilet paper-wad of a 2.9 eval "leaves room for growth"?

It's like that. I fully expect, with time, to rise through the flag ranks. Meanwhile, I'll get to work. Well, right after my promotion ceremony.

Form the band on the quarterdeck. Bugler, sound "Attention."

Crucial information

Occasionally, I hear things from active duty MUs that demand to be passed on. This came in recently, and deserves dissemination:

"'Navy van' is the same spelled frontwards or backwards."
Just thought you'd like to know.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Buddy Morrow: Trombonist, Bandleader, Navy musician

Buddy Morrow, longtime trombonist and bandleader, died a few days ago at the age of 91. According to the New York Times, his final performance as leader of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, only days earlier, was greeted with "tumultuous applause." This was no surprise to me; I saw Buddy and the band a few years ago. As I noted then, the Dorsey Orchestra played with the mastery of experience and the energy of youth.

It also does not surprise me to learn that Buddy was a former Navy musician. The Times article mentions that he served with a Navy band on Staten Island, New York, from 1941 to 1945.

My grandfather was the Executive Officer of the Naval Frontier Base, Staten Island, during those war years. I have some 8x10 glossy photos of the band participating in a military ceremony. I'll have to dig them up; maybe I can come up with a photo identifiable as MU3 Morrow.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Military band costs still attract media attention

Military bands have been in the media spotlight lately. For the last few weeks, we've been filling each others' in-boxes with links to the series of Washington Post columns concerning the cost of military bands.

The spotlight grew brighter and less flattering today, when NPR picked up the story. Walter Pincus, the author of the Post series, appeared this morning on "All Things Considered." (Audio of the show, and links to the the Washington Post articles are here.)

Pincus says the Marine Corps fessed up to spending $50 million on their bands annually. The Army had trouble coming up with a figure, finally estimating almost $200 million for their four or five thousand musicians.

This could get strange. The current Senate and congressional campaigns are, to a great degree, about runaway government spending, so we can see the temptation for congressional candidates to wave this story around as a flagrant example of waste. On the other hand, the story has been publicized by those no-good liberal media outlets, NPR and the Washington Post. Politicians who claim to hate government and it's profligate ways, however, tend to be those who support our military. Will they side with the East Coast elite media enemy?

All I know is we've been through this before.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sorry for the inconvenience, old shipmate

The randomness of credit card security measures has always mystified me. I show my driver's license when I charge a four-dollar quart of ice cream in a convenience store; then I drive across the street, swipe my card at the gas pump and put twenty bucks-worth of gas into my tank without cross-examination.

In 1986, I decided to start testing these security measures by signing fictitious names on credit card receipts. For a few years I signed as "Francis Malarkey," "Feodor Mussorgsky" and "Festus Muldoon." Not once did my roster of vaguely Frank Mullen-like signatures attract  a second glance from a cashier, waitress or salesman.

In the early '90s I decided to stop the shenanigans. I did away with all those aliases and began signing all credit card slips with one name: Fred Muzer.

Fred was a shipmate with whom I served in the 1970s at Navy Bands in San Francisco and Newport. We were friends and housemates, and the fact we were both "F.M"s confused a lot of people we met, but, believe me, it hasn't shaken anybody in the credit card industry.

I've been signing Fred's name since about 1992. Fred, old pal, if you're getting billed for mysterious purchases of unleaded gas, sour cream at Amtrak tickets to Denver, don't panic; you're playing a vital part in my efforts to test the nation's economic security.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Happy Birthday to Us!

Today, LCDR Dwaine Whitham informs us at Facebook's "Navy Musician" group, marks the 184th anniversary of the earliest evidence of a band aboard a U.S. naval vessel.

Lieutenant Commander Whitham's words, for those without access to Facebook:



From the records in our office; twenty-six years after the birth of our nation a band performed on a United States Ship marking the first recorded occurrence of a band on board one of our naval vessels. Today marks 184 years since the first recorded Navy musician rate. It's interesting that this first recording of a Navy musician was in the deck logs of the USS Constitution, as both have been able to stand the test of time. As with the USS Constitution, our Navy bands have been an icon of our early history, honors, customs, and traditions and continue to play a vital role in the Navy's mission.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Frank's Roster of NMA Members he knew on active duty

NavyLyres began in 2006 as a list of MUs I knew in the Navy, entitled  My Bands and Shipmates. This was soon followed by The Navy Musician's Lexicon. Since then, NavyLyres has grown into...whatever.

Now that I've become active in the Navy Musicians Association, I enjoy new friendships with MUs I never knew. But I was surprised, at my first reunion, by how many NMA members I knew from my active duty days.
So, I'm going back to basics today. Here is a list of NMA members I knew when I was on active duty.

And, as a bonus, I've included a list of NMA members I knew of back then. The Navy Music Program has always been a small community; the guys in Unit Band 73 told stories about guys they'd served with in the COMDESRONPACLANT band.

The boring details:

-- Shipmates I knew at the School of Music are identified according to their status at the time, not mine. Bob Boyer, for instance is identified as "Advanced Course," although I was on staff during his studies. Similarly, Bob and Melanie Leketa are identified as "Staff" because that was their status while I was in the Advanced Course.

-- References to CINCLANT: I was never stationed with the CINCLANT band, thank you Jesus, but I knew many of its bandsmen while stationed on staff at the School of Music. We'd run into each other at official functions, moonlighting gigs and occasionally at the, er, Brass Bell Lounge.

-- References to Seattle: I was stationed at that band only temporarily. (I was also stationed at the U.S. Navy Band for three hours, but that's another story.)

So, here we go.

NMA Members I knew while I was on active duty:
(Those I have met again at NMA reunions are in boldface.)

Joe Arthur - bandmaster, Newport
Karl Alexander - Newport
Ray Ascione - S.O.M.
Dennis Allard - Newport
Mike Beegle - Newport
Diane Beegle - Newport
Bob Boyer - Advanced Course
Dave Beem - Intermediate Course
Dick Brodt - S.O.M. Staff
Mike Burch-Pesses - bandmaster, 7th Fleet Band
Marianne Carlton - Intermediate Course
Terry Chesson - bandmaster, Newport
Doyle Church - San Francisco
Everett Crouse - Advanced Course
Lenny Childs - Intermediate Course
J.J. Connor - Assistant Bandleader, San Francisco
Urban Carvalho - S.O.M. Staff
Skip Clarke - San Francisco
Dave Czohara - Intermediate Course, Newport
Jim Cunningham - San Francisco, Intermediate Course
Pat Daly - Newport
Jack Dye - S.O.M. Staff
John Derby- San Francisco
Pat Daly - Newport? CINCLANT? Help me out here, Pat.
Rich Eastman - Newport, Intermediate Course (?)
Bill Eggleton - School of Music Staff, Training Officer
Phil Field - School of Music CO/XO
Karl Fite - S.O.M. Staff
Bob Gaffney - Basic Course
Don Gamble - Intermediate Course
Bill Gannaway - Advanced Course (while I was in Intermediate)
Paul Geitzenhaur- S.O.M. Staff
Bob Grindle - Advanced Course
Larry Gatewood - S.O.M. Staff
Mark Hammond - CINCLANT, Advanced Course(?)
Rick Holdsworth - Newport
Chuck Harris - San Francisco
Lee Hudson - Newport
Leon Harris- (?)
Ed Henson - San Francisco
Bill Hocke - Advanced Course
Dean Hoyt - Newport
John Hanson - San Francisco, S.O.M Staff
Hal Hessler - Bandmaster, San Francisco
Dave Hodge - Newport
Kim Holl - Intermediate Course, S.O.M. Staff, 7th Fleet Band
Dennis Jansson - Newport
John Johnson - Newport, Intermediate Course (my classmate)
John Jeanquenat - Advanced Course
Don Keller - Basic Course
Frank Kemp - San Francisco, Seattle
Jeff Kolb - Advanced Course (my classmate)
Jim LaFlame - member of National Guard band while I was in Newport
Melanie Leketa - S.O.M. Staff
Bob Leketa - S.O.M. Staff
Gene Lane - San Francisco
Mike Mitchell - S.O.M. Staff
Bob Marquart - San Francisco, Advanced Course, CINCLANT
Jim McCandlish - CINCLANT, S.O.M. Staff
Randy Martell - CINCLANT
Tom Metcalf - S.O.M. XO
Max Murry - Basic Course, Newport
John Pastin - CINCLANT, S.O.M. Staff
Bob Pomerleau - S.O.M. Staff
Tom Parkhurst - CINCLANT
Don Plowman - San Francisco. S.O.M. Staff
Ed Rodgers- S.O.M Staff, Newport, S.O.M. Staff
Dan Richardson - Gigged with Danny (retired) while I was on S.O.M. Staff
Jack Rodway- Newport (retired)
Dana Silvercloud - Newport
Jeff Schortgen - 7th Fleet Band
Wilbur Smith - Newport, TAD S.O.M. Staff
 Fred Stemple - CINCLANT
George Thompson - Newport
Ron Vanhoose - CO, School of Music
Tex Waldron - S.O.M. Staff, Newport bandmaster, Seattle bandmaster
Tom Wholley - Newport, Intermediate Course, 7th Fleet Band
Dave Whitaker - San Francisco, Seattle
Nate Wilensky - Basic Course
Bob Wilson - Intermediate Course (?)

NMA members I knew of while I was on active duty.

(Appearance on this list means you were someone whose name I knew through scuttlebutt, sea stories, slander, etc.)

Nick Annase
Don Blossfield
Larry Callahan
Jerry Clements
Norman Detoy
Sam Flores
Doug Forziati
Ralph Gambone
Jack Geary
Ralph Gambone
John Gattuso
Ben McHorney
Philip Rovenolt
Cal StewartDave Weaver
Warren Weiss
John Bledsoe

Special Mentions:

Two NMA members were on the staff of the School of Music while I was in the Basic and Intermediate Courses. I knew who they were, but did not "know" them. The student body was in awe of the musicianship of Dick Bonenfant and John Fluck, who were regarded as Demigods. Having now become acquainted with these two gentlemen, I now regard them as friends, but, believe me, when an NMA band starts cooking with Dick and John in the rhythm secion, I'm still in awe.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Home From the Sea" - John Fluck and the School of Music Faculty Lab Band

"Home From The Sea" is a Navy film with a score written by John Fluck and recorded by the Faculty Lab Band at the School of Music in 1969.

John has been kind enough to fill in some of the details. While he wrote and arranged the musical score, the music and lyrics of the song that recurs throughout the film were written by an Army basic student, Julian Harvey.

"Go figure," says John. "We announced a contest in the Plan of the Day for a title song and Harvey's song was the only submission. Luckily, it was a good one."

He points out that the soundtrack was recorded with the the School of Musics legendary state-of-the-art technology. "We played the film on a TV monitor as I conducted the band to get the timing right. We had a microphone in a nearby stairwell for echo on the vocals. High tech!"

The band, at that time, included:

Woodwinds: Ed Hayes, C.J. Landry, Mike Gerych, Mike Masciola and Lou Lanyi.

French Horns: Jack Miller Jim Krueger and Jim Eberhardt.

Trumpets: Marty Conley, Jim Howard, Buzz Sawyer and Dave Perry.

Trombones: Aubrey Tucker, Art Nebel, and Dave Traub.

Tuba: Hal Hessler.

Guitar: Vinnie Tamburino

Piano: Ron Chiles.

Bass: John Peiffer.

Drums: Kenny Malone.

Percussion: Mike Shepherd, percussion.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Great Moments in Navy Leadership, # 43: Jack Dye's lesson in accountability.

As the School of Music's Master Chief Petty Officer of the Command, MUCM Jack Dye's office was across the passageway from the master-at-arms' shack. Whenever the MAA posted a new watch bill, students would gather in the passageway and complain loudly:

"The dog watch again; they can't do that to me."

"They sure can't. It's not fair."

"That's three watches this week--they did it to me again."

Realizing that such students did not appreciate their positions in the military hierarchy, Jack had a special name tag designed. Instead of his name, rank and title, it had only one word on it, spelled out in upper-case letters. The next time a crowd of irate students gathered at the bulletin board, Jack pinned his new name tag onto his shirt and stepped out into the passageway.

A corporal was advising a private to complain about a certain watch. "I'd take this up the chain of command. They can't do that to you."

Jack interrupted the discussion, asking, "Excuse me, men, is there a problem I can help you with?"

The two soldiers, naturally, looked at Jack's name tag to see who was addressing them. Like I said, it had only one word on it:


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Navy Band Northeast- "Today"

Well, a couple of months ago, actually. Don't know how I missed this: my old unit on the Memorial Day broadcast of "The Today Show."

Monday, July 26, 2010

"A Tradition in Music" - U.S. Navy Band Documentary, 1969

This 1969 film by the Chief of Naval Operations' Office of Information shows the U.S. Navy Band in rehearsal and performance, as well as detailing the history and operational requirements of the organization.

It's about a half hour long, and is surprisingly frank, including a little salty language during rehearsal.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Time-in-service requirements waived

Originally published in the Rock Island Argus
and Moline Dispatch, July 8, 2010
Copyright 2010 Frank Mullen III

Impossibly, a band was playing "Anchors Aweigh."

Of course, I'd been hearing that song all week; I was returning from four days of music and sea stories at the annual reunion of the Navy Musicians Association in San Antonio, Texas.

But now, dragging my suitcase along Concourse A of the Quad City International Airport, I could have sworn I heard the Navy's song in the distance.

It was a Tuesday evening, and, aside from a few fellow passengers, I could see no one except a distant group of people moving slowly toward me. Still, I heard patriotic music and an unidentifiable whisper of excitement. I walked faster, leaving my fellow passengers behind, and hustled to the security screening corridor, where I expected to see my wife waiting.

Instead, I saw half the population of the Quad-Cities. The corridor, usually occupied only by a few security workers and travelers, was jammed with people of all ages holding red, white and blue banners and waving flags. And -- I wasn't crazy -- a band was playing "Anchors Aweigh."

OK, I'll admit it: for a second, I thought the party was for me. I'd had a rough trip home. A broken airplane toilet had caused the airline to cancel my connecting flight in Dallas, forcing me to spend the night in a Hilton Hotel Executive Suite, free of charge, meals included. Yes, I'd survived unspeakable hardships, and, clearly, my wife had outdone herself in planning this surprise welcome.

When my senses returned, I figured out what was happening: Those people I'd seen on the concourse were World War II veterans returning from an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. They'd visited the monuments that honor their service and sacrifice and this crowd was preparing to offer them a four-star welcome home.

This nation holds its defenders of freedom in the highest regard. Sadly, in this election year, some campaign activists are redefining the word "veteran" for their political advantage. Misapplying Veterans Administration regulations, these partisans boldly contend that an opposing candidate for office is not a veteran because his length of service is a few weeks short of the VA's requirement that, to qualify for certain benefits, a vet must serve on active duty for 180 days, exclusive of training.

This reasoning dishonors veterans of all eras and theaters. By such reckoning, I, a peacetime sailor, am a veteran, but a tail gunner who enlisted in 1945 and flew combat missions for five months and twelve days before his discharge at war’s end is not.

In fact, all who have served well, in war, in peace, on active duty, in the Reserves or National Guard, are veterans. It is not government regulations or campaign playbooks that tell us this; it is common sense and gratitude.

You may disagree. If you do, the rest of us are glad you weren't waiting at the airport when the Honor Flight returned, demanding each great-grandfather provide his service record so you could stamp "Not a Vet -- Respect Denied" on the papers of those whose history of service does not pass your political test.

Those who have worn the military uniform deserve honor, not inquisition. This is particularly true of World War II veterans. My overseas military service cannot compare with theirs. I brought home from Japan cheap stereo tuners and designer jeans; they brought home freedom and hope.

I hurried out of the corridor quickly to get out of the spotlight intended for the heroes following me.

I hope they enjoyed their welcome as much as I did.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Backstage with Chris Pastin
I've just returned from Rock Island, Illinois, where Navy Band Great Lakes's pop contingent played to an enthusiastic crowd at Schwiebert park. As I mentioned earlier, I particularly wanted to meet the drummer, Chris Pastin; he's the son of my old shipmate, NMA member John Pastin. 

I met the guys backstage right before the show, and, recalling what a hassle it always was to have old men kibitzing at you when you've got your mind on a million other things ("My son is in the Navy, too. You probably know him--Bill? Bill Johnson?") , I tried to keep it short.

Horizon, pianist MU1 Steve Pendel, leader.

Somehow, however, these guys seem to find time to read my newspaper columns. The group's leader, Steve Pendel, thanked me for a recent piece I wrote about Navy musicians. And--gulp--later, during the show, Chris acknowledged me from the stage.

Let me tell you: these guys do the work. I just write about it. But to have one of our own, an MU still on active duty, call you a patriot in front of half the City of Rock Island--well, I was sitting far back enough in the park that I doubt that Chris and the rest of the guys could see me wiping my eyes. Believe me, it was just some sort of mist blowing off the Mississippi River.

Something like that.

Rock on the Horizon

In a few hours, I'll drive up to Schwiebert Park in Rock Island for the Independence Day festivities, where Horizon, the pop contingent from Navy Band Great Lakes, will perform.

Although I am the undisputed king of geezer-quality rock 'n' roll piano, rock was never my favorite genre of Navy music. I played in rock and show bands as required, but never had that certain something it takes to stand under a basketball hoop and shout, "Good morning, Smithville High; are you ready to get down?" at 0815 in the god-forsaken morning. I was rarely ready to "get down" before noon; I was ready to get back in bed.

But I'm looking forward to seeing this group, in particular because the drummer is the son of NMA member John Pastin. Last week at the reunion, John and I reminisced about a Marine drummer we worked with long ago in Little Creek, Mark Adams, who drove bands not only with sticks and brushes, but with the most important thing in the drummer's gig bag, musicianship. John told me his son has that trait, and I look forward to hearing and meeting him.

And the entire band, of course. The show doesn't start until 7PM, so I may be ready to get down.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tailed by Doyle

As I wrote about earlier, I spent a lot of time in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport Monday, waiting for a flight back home that was repeatedly delayed and finally cancelled.

And everywhere I went, I heard Doyle Church.

Buying a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, I heard Doyle right behind me. I turned, but Doyle hid quickly; all I saw was some guy talking on a cell phone. Browsing at a news stand, I heard Doyle at the counter, but when I looked, again, he'd gone, leaving in his place a tall guy wearing a cowboy hat. Outside the men's room, at the boarding gate, everywhere I went, I heard Doyle's voice.

Except for one time. I was looking at newspapers in a gift shop when I could have sworn I heard Tex Waldron behind me.

The NMA Concert Band

When we played as Navy professionals, we heard with our ears. Now, when we gather but once a year, we hear with our hearts, too.

And our hearts hear well the marches, suites and medleys the Navy Musicians Association Concert Band plays during days and nights of rehearsals and performances.

The ear is, of course, the more technically accurate measure. In fact, you can study ear training--we all did. A few months of practice can measurably improve the ear's ability to discern different pitches.

But there's no short course in "heart" training. It takes years of experience--joys, sorrows, losses, hopes fulfilled and dreams dashed--to prepare the heart to fully comprehend the effect of a concert band full of MUs. 

Conductor Wilbur Smith and the NMA Concert Band provide us a great service every year. The ensemble is excellent, of course, but it's not an excellence that can be measured by tuning forks, oscilloscopes or audition boards with clipboards and grading sheets. It can only be measured by the heart. And by that more-important standard, the band measures up well.

Final grade: 4.0.

A difficult shot

The band photographer's greatest challenge is to get a shot of the entire trumpet section playing at the same time. This difficulty is caused by:

- Rests. Some players take unfair advantage of empty measures, using them as an opportunity to put down their horns and breathe.

- Spit valves. The trumpeter spends a lot of time blowing loogies onto his neighbors' shoes.

- Visual instrument examination. The trumpet player, when hearing an unsatisfactory sound emerge from the bell, is likely to stop playing, hold the instrument sideways before his face and look closely for mechanical defects or maladjustments, as though the cause of clams, squawks and fraps lies in the instrument itself.

NMA Concert Band: Sax appeal

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You can count on us.

One, two, three, four,
Two, two, three, four,
Three, two three, four,
Four, two, three, four...

And a partridge in a pear tree.

The heights in flute fashion

Casual enough for an afternoon rehearsal, formal enough for an evening pig roast, it's sure to find a home in every flutist's gig bag. Here, Bill Allen brightens up the section in his 2010 NMA tee-shirt.

More fun than a clarinet bonfire.

The Shy Tubas

Here's a picture of the tubas during rehearsal of the NMA Concert Band. Note that I said "tubas," not "tuba players." Can I help it if they duck behind their horns when they see me coming with a camera?

If you want good photographs, go to eBay and buy an old copy of Life magazine.

San Antonio Trombones

Okay,I've cracked a few trombone jokes in my life. I can't help it: I was stationed with Tex Waldron three times.

No jokes about their performance at this year's Navy Musicians Association reunion, though.More than one member told me they thought the 'bones were outstanding this year, in the Big Band as well as Concert Band.

I agree; it's just hard to admit it.

To the people of Texas:

I just spent a week in your state. Had a great time. Met you, liked you, ate some great Tex-Mex food.

But I won't be coming back.

Friends, I gotta ask: Why do you paint all your parking lots black? Don't you know the relationship between colors and heat retention? You know: white reflects, black absorbs? That kind of third-grade science class thing?
Texas starts the day at a temperature of 80 degrees, and works up from that baseline. It is not necessary to pave the state in order to create heat. God's giving it to you in spades.

Texas, I discovered, is fine, as long as you don't go outdoors. Bed? Great. Hotel lobby? Outstanding. It was only when I stepped outside that the searing flames of punishment permeated my being. Without a car,I had to walk from my hotel to nearby restaurants and stores. Every step was a flaming, torturous exercise in suicidal ideation.

Why all the black? Alternatives abound.

Cement has a nice natural color. Don't know what you'd call it; "cement colored," probably. Disperses the heat, it does.

I've seen asphalt done in light grey shades that show the gravelly texture, yet provide a smooth driving surface that reflects the sunlight here and there, preventing heat build-up.

But black? Come on. The road to hell is paved in black asphalt, just to give the new residents a taste of eternity. 

Like I said, had a great time. Good buddies, friendly locals, everything's big, big, big.

But you won't see Frank Mullen hoping across the asphalt again any time soon.

I get the message.

A delay in the NMA reunion wrap-up.

On Monday morning, I told you I'd be home at the end of the day and start wrapping up my coverage of the Navy Musicians Association on Tuesday, yesterday.

That was before the Trip Through the Outskirts of Hell.

It started smoothly. American Airlines got me to Dallas/Fort Worth without a glitch. I ran halfway across the state of Texas in time to board my 2:30 PM connecting flight to Moline. I was almost on the plane when the passengers were herded back into the terminal.

The toilet was broken. A mechanic would fix it in no time; flight delayed until 3:00 PM.

Mechanic delayed. Flight delayed until. 4:00 PM. Clouds roll in.

Toilet not fixed at 4:30 PM, as newscasters on large-screen TV discuss tropical storm Alex

Thunderbolts arrive at 5:00 PM. Flight cancelled. Passengers shipped to area hotels to spend the night.

I checked in the Hilton Hotel and found the business center; figured I'd post about the situation to my Navy buddies.

Internet access in Hilton Hotel business center is billed at a rate of $5 for every ten minutes. I love you, sailor, but not at $30 an hour.

Next day, back to the airport to hop on flight 3303 to Moline at Gate B5. Gate is changed to B24. I get to new gate just in time for a change: B4. Back at B4, gate is changed to B17. Then B12.

Finally, B6. We board. Captain announces, "The light switch in the rest room is broken, but a mechanic can fix it in no time."

Aiiee! This is where I came in.

So, now it's Wednesday, I'm finally back from Texas, having completed the trip from Texas to Illinois, over a period of two days at an average speed of 11 miles per hour. I've got a boss and coworkers who would prefer I come back to work rather than sit at my computer, posting to my Navy buddies.

So the Reunion Wrap-up will be delayed. I'll try to do it tonight. If I can't finish up, I'll dole out some more flimsy excuses. For example, the light switch in the bathroom doesn't work, but I can fix that in no time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I'm outta here.

I'm sitting in the lobby of the San Antonio Doubletree Hotel, suitcase on floor, laptop in lap, waiting for the shuttle to take me to the airport.

This week, I'll post more photos of, and drivel about, the Navy Musicians Association. Sea stories, great gig stories, terrible gig stories, speculation as to whatever happened to good old so-and-so; so much more deserves to be publicized (and just as much deserves to be kept quiet). Oh, things you'll learn at an NMA reunion.

As tomorrow is a travel day, I won't be posting here. I remind you that John Derby's reunion photos and thoughts await you at his blog, Who Moved My Chops?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Farewell, San Antonio

Taps. Taps. Lights out. All hands return to their racks and maintain silence about the decks. Taps.

Taking care of the little things

One of my collateral duties as a member of the Navy Musicians Association is to drive Melanie Leketa crazy once a year.

Toward the end of the NMA Concert Band's Friday night concert, Melanie sings "Eternal Father" and "Requiem for a Friend." I then recite "We Serve With Honor" as the band plays "America, the Beautiful."

Melanie always has trouble during the rehearsal of this medley. The trouble is me. I check the microphone's switch 30 times. I move the microphone stand toward the band, away from the band, under the catering table. Later, as the concert is about to begin, I do these things again, each time telling her why. She tries to hide, but I track her down to tell her where we should stand, when I'll move the microphone, where she should face. At the last minute, I tell her how to turn on the microphone.

It never occurs to me that Melanie is an experienced, professional singer, adept at microphone technique, stage presence, ignoring glitches and making performance look effortless. In fact, four years ago, she taught me how to use the microphone.  

You can tell by the way she rolls her eyes that she appreciates my efforts.

Until we meet once more...

They're waiting for us back home: jobs, churches, volunteer bands, golfing pals and to-do lists.

We bid each other farewell, not knowing what the year holds in store for us, what joys and sorrows we'll bring to the next reunion.

Joy at being together and sorrow at our impending departures combine on Saturday night, when the Navy Musicians Association Concert Band concludes its performance.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Set condition "Darken Ship"

As the 2010 Navy Musicians Association reunion approaches its final evening, Navy Lyres goes dark.

In an hour, the concert band will play for the cocktail hour. We'll have dinner, speeches, no doubt, and a few sets of big band and rock 'n' roll.

Then it will be over. We'll toast each other one last time, say our goodbyes and pack up the gear so the equipment transportation crew can depart early in the morning.

I'm staying an extra day, so I'll be able to provide more reports tomorrow. But tonight, I'm taking off my blogging hat, whatever that is, to devote myself to one of the most joyous and bittersweet parts of an NMA reunion: the end. 

What went wrong?

It's down time at the Navy Musicians Assoication reunion. The concert band has finished it rehearsal for tonight, and we're all on liberty.

A good time to mention that something was missing at the membership meeting this morning: whining. Things never go perfectly at an NMA reunion--did you ever go on a cruise or tour where everything worked as planned?

Yet when President Chesson opened the floor for general comments, there was a serious lack of whining, bitching, moaning, kvetching and harping.

The board of directors is seriously wondering what they did wrong to deserve this

2012: Orlando, Florida

At the Saturday morning meeting of the membership of the Navy Musicians Association, Executive Vice-president Bob Leketa announced that the reunion of the Navy Musicians Association in 2012 will be in Orlando, Florida. The date is not yet set, nor is the venue; he already has proposals from 9 hotels, and lots of work remains to be done.

The definition of a loser

My enemy, the worthless Lee Hudson, just showed up at the Navy Musicians Association reunion. Two days late. Typical.

Lee tells me he got married this year and moved to Texas without a job or even a prospect thereof. Waiting to find a position in music education, Milton Leander Hudson, Ph.D, went to Wal-mart and filled out the 75-question online application form. He received an immediate response: Dr. Hudson is not qualified to work at Wal-mart and need not re-apply.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. To think that Hudbucket is unqualified to sit on a stool in a stupid blue jacket, greeting people and handing them shopping carts fill my heart with unmeasurable joy, a joy that is in no way minimized by the knowledge that, within a week, he'd found a position as Assistant Director of Music in a nearby college.

Believe me, I was glad to be a sympathetic listening ear to an old shipmate who's been through hard times. I'm not the kind of guy who, on hearing such a tale, contains his glee until I he can duck around a corner.

I laughed in his face then and there.

What are shipmates for?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Victory at San Antonio

The Navy Musicans Association Concert Band performed "Victory at Sea" at tonight's performance. Here's a taste, enough to give you the feeling a fresh breeze in your face and a liberty card in your pocket.

Another source of NMA live-blogging

In a parallel dimension, NMA member John Derby is also blogging the Navy Musicians Association reunion at his site, Who moved my chops?

While he and I are old friends, I must point out that John is engaging in unfair competition: he knows how to operate a camera.

No fair.

You gotta know when to hold 'em

It has come to Big Frank's attention that poker is being played at the Navy Musicians Association reunion.

It is fortunate that Big Frank is unaware of the exact location of the game. Experience has shown that he is weak at some of the finer tactics of poker. These tactics include "bluffing," "poker face" and "folding."

Concert Band rehearsal

As promised, more video of the Navy Musicians Association reunion, provided by Frank's Lo-tech Productions.

In rehearsal for the Friday night performance,Wilbur Smith finds that progress is enhanced by getting everybody on the same page.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Here's a rare photo: NMA Executive Vice-president Bob Leketa at the piano.

Reunion week is generally Bob's busiest time. You'll often see him flying up and down the hallways of a reunion venue,collaring the hotel staff, holding emergency meetings with event managers, "putting out fires," as he calls it.

This year, however, things are going smoothly. So smoothly that he's had a few opportunities to do what so many of us come here to do: play.

I just finish playing a set in the lounge with Bob on piano. It's not something we often get to hear, and surprise, surprise: he's good.

Who knew?

You're either part of the conversation, or the topic

A Navy Musicians Association reunion isn't just about music. It's about shipmates. That means, if you're not here, we spend a lot of time time discussing, well, you.

--Charlie Niehoff keeps bringing up John Linscott's name. John, you might want to think about showing up next year, if only to defend yourself.

-- Showband West alumni--Frank Kemp, Ed Henson, John Derby and me--particularly miss Charlie Sweet. Charlie said yes to the reunion, but his doctor said no. John and I, in particular, were looking forward to offering Charlie heartfelt apologies for making 1977 a, shall we say, exceptionally difficult year for our old bandleader.

-- The good news is that my arch-enemy, Lee Hudson isn't here. The bad news is he's coming on Friday. I'll enjoy things while I can.

Each morning is a little easier

Our second morning of 0900 Big Band rehearsal was a little smoother. We've learned how much coffee is necessary to assure legato swing eighth-notes.

An early farewell.

The Navy Musicians Association reunion is just getting underway, the Big Band is swinging and folks are still arriving.

And some, sadly,are departing. Members and guests come for as much of the reunion as their schedules permit. My wife had only a few free days, and had to leave this morning. She made her farewells this morning--here, she says goodbye to NMA President Terry Chesson--and hopped on the shuttle to the airport.

I am now, once again, resonsible for monitoring my own behavior.

Break's over

I came to my first reunion after 10 years totally away from the piano. Now, thanks to the annual opportunity to perform with my shipmates, I play again. The piano is, again, an important part of my life.

New NMA member John Derby has me beat: he's returning to the guitar after a break of almost two decades. We played together last night for the first time since we were stationed together in 1977.

Thanks for retuning to the fold, John. And thanks, NMA, for the opportunity to be back on the bandstand with an old friend.

It's not easy being Cute at 0917

Neil Hefti probably had Dick Bonenfant in mind when he wrote this one.

The fleet's in...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Another first rehearsal

The Navy Musicians Association Concert Band's first rehearsal is always a challenge: rehearsal time is limited, the music is challenging and the performance is Friday. 

The band has always met the challenge, and will this year, too.

Old friends and new

The Navy Musicians Association Concert Band's first rehearsal introduced us to new acquaintances...

...and reunited us with old shipmates.

Unit Cohesion

It's not something you order from a catalog and spray in the air. Unit cohesion comes from working together. Today,the NMA's Big Band worked morning and afternoon, and it payed off. We swung.

A few notes

- Here we are, back at work playing. Members continue to arrive and fit themselves into the day's activities.

- Today's schedule is unusual. The NMA Concert Band will meet at 1700, rehearse for an hour, then join the rest of us for a beer bash provided by the hotel. Rehearsal will resume at 1900.

It is expected that this last session will be extremely productive.

- I played more piano last night and this morning than I'd played during the entire previous year. My arms are now useless, flapping appendages. Yo--NMA pianists--where are you?

First rehearsal

One thing is abundantly clear: 0900 comes a lot earlier than it used to.

Lots to do

You're not likely to run out of things to do at an NMA reunion. If you want to get away, it looks like a few other things may be going on in San Antonio.

Welcome aboard

Hand over your personnel records. Have you checked in with dental and medical? The disbursing office will reopen at 1300. Find a locker, stow your seabag and report back here at 0845 for a 0900 downbeat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Tuesday night tradition.

It's not on the schedule, but it's an NMA tradition. Late on Tuesday afternoon, people start migrating to the lounge. When the proper instrumentation is achieved, the pre-reunion jam session begins. 

We're all anxious to play together after a year apart, so sometimes, the bandstand gets a bit crowded.

But, sometimes, just a trio plays...

...while their shipmates listen.

Here come the Seabees

Tomorrow, the Seabees will arrive.

Like the Navy Musicians Association, the Company E Seabees are holding their reunion at the San Antonio Doubletree Hotel. Unlike the NMA, this may be their last get-together.

The boys of Company E served during World War II. Like so many military reunion groups of that era, only a handful of members can still travel, and their active days are coming to a close.

Our board of directors has invited Company E to join us on Saturday night for the NMA dinner/dance, where the concert band will honor them with "Song of the Seabees."  (Mel Leketa, who hasn't left Virginia Beach yet, will pick up the music from the School of Music in Little Creek and bring it with along.)

Their presence will serve as a reminder that the Navy Musicians Association's Saturday night ceremony is not an evening of self-congratulation. It is a time we offer honor and ceremony to all who served before us.

The boys of Company E deserve our thanks. Fortunately, it's not to late for us to give it.

We are not alone

I'm not noticing any problems with my spiritual health, thank you, though I'm not the kind of guy who'll turn down the offer of professional bank services.

Not bad for a reunion that hasn't started yet

Jamming will begin presently... soon as the tech crew finishes jury-rigging the bandstand.

I don't know what the problem is, but the solution, clearly, is duct tape.

Leon Harris and Bill Sterck apply the Universal Solution

We have a quorum

MUs continue to roll in. I am informed by Bob Leketa that we are at strength to begin playing in the lounge tonight, or perhaps as early as 1600.

It is hard to believe that this--

-- will soon be the site of a riotous musical bacchanal.

We're picking up steam

Officers at work

The pianist has pounded out a Bb for tuning, the drummer is adjusting his cymbals, the bass player is plugging in to his amplifier and the saxes are shuffling through the music on their stands. It’s the first rehearsal of an NMA reunion.

You may wonder: how does all this equipment get here? Elves, probably. Maybe magic elephants haul this stuff from Virginia Beach on their backs. When they reach the hotel, the Amazing Kreskin closes his eyes, puts his fingers on his temples, and bass drums and string basses levitate off the elephants’ backs and float into the hotel.

Well, not exactly. The job of getting musical gear from Virginia Beach, halfway across the country and into a hotel is done by the NMA’s officers. These are not white-shoe, wardroom officers; these are amplifier-toting, piano-carrying, bass drum-schlepping officers. They do a lot of dirty work we never see.

All's quiet on the quarterdeck

The registration room is the quarterdeck of an NMA reunion. It is where newcomers get their first impression of our association's get-togethers, and where seasoned members look to see who has signed in.

Mariners of old knew that it's always quietest right before the storm. Deb Holl knows this, too. She's methodically battening down the hatches before the deluge of MUs begins.

One day to downbeat

Random stuff pours from my head. I'll do better after coffee.

--Although the NMA reunion begins tomorrow, shipmates have been filing in to the San Antonio Doubletree Hotel already. Yesterday brought Doyle Church, John Branam, Leon Harris, Ambrose O'Donnell and Rabbit Simmons.

--I saw Charlie Sweet on the list of folks who've registered for the reunion. Charlie and Doyle Church were my first unit leaders. I learned a lot from them. A first class petty officer was a pretty important guy to me in those days.