30 November 2011

Navy Showband West- 1995

I enjoy posting videos of recent Navy band performances, but also get a kick out of the not-so-recent category. Here, from 1995, is the final performance of Navy Showband West. The sound may play only through one channel, but the band, nevertheless, kicks, swings and screams. Enjoy.

20 November 2011

CDR Philip H. Field, USN (Ret.)

In the early '80s, I was new to the staff at the School of Music, but not new to moonlighting. One night, I was setting up before a gig on a cruise ship when the executive officer of the school walked up to the bandstand.

I was bummed out at the thought of having the XO listen to me play all night. But that's not what I told him. "Good evening, sir," I said. "I hope you enjoy the music tonight."

"I hope so, too," he said, opening his tenor case. "Where do I set up?"

I'd known we were having a substitute sax player that night, but I didn't know it was the XO. Now I was going to have to spend the night watching my mouth, looking over my shoulder and tolerating the presence of an officer who would probably suck as a musician.

Four bars into his solo on "Quiet Nights," I realized that Mr. Field didn't suck. Through the entire first set, I was constantly awed by his ability to start a solo gently, explore the melody, turn it upside down, leave it behind and build to an exciting climax. Who would have thought that officers could do this?

Still, I was tense when the band sat down at a corner table during the first break. I guess Mr. Field sensed this. He looked across the table at me and quietly said, "Do you know how the city of Yuma, Arizona, got its name?" I admitted I didn't know, so he told me, and, three decades later, I'm still laughing. His joke-telling style was like his jazz soloing style, opening softly and building convincingly to a solid punchline. 

I responded with the one about the world's greatest hunting dog, which caused him to guffaw and spit out his beer. The rest of the gig was pure relaxation.

The following morning, I carried a special request chit into the XO's office, a last-minute plea that I be allowed to switch duty with some gullible Marine for the third time that month in order to attend another promotion party for some soldier I barely knew.

Mr. Field put down his pen, looked at the chit for two seconds, said, "You're joking," handed it back to me and went back to work.

The best officer is not your full-time buddy. The best officer is a hell of a guy on Saturday night and a hell of a boss on Monday morning. I knew no finer leader than Phil Field. As both my XO and CO, he was always open to reasonable requests, free with advice based on experience, and firm--really firm--when the occasion called for it.

I hope today's Navy Music Program has officers like Phil Field.

11 November 2011

My dear grandsons

Originally published in
Rock Island Argus &
Moline Dispatch
Nov.10, 2011

In my rural Illinois town, Veterans Day is a big deal. Here, after all, a veteran isn't a concept or an ideal. A vet is the old man next door who hoists a U.S. Army flag every morning, the kid who led the football team in touchdowns last year, the woman who stamps the date on your books at the library. She's your letter carrier. He's your Dad.

I'm visiting family in Denver this week. For the first time in decades, I'll spend Veterans Day in a big city. I'll miss my hometown's parade, the speeches, the laying of wreaths on the courthouse lawn, and hope the big city will honor our veterans in ways other than offering 30 percent off on linens and MP3 players.

Of course, I look forward to spending time with my grandsons. But I don't think I'll spend much time lecturing them on the importance of honoring our veterans. They're grade school boys, more interested in Legos than lectures on the importance of the citizen-soldier as a vital component of America's military readiness.

But they will not always be children. They will grow into the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. I hope, by then, I will have told them:

-- My grandsons, your family tree blossoms with generations of ancestors who served in the United States military, in war and in peace -- even Grandpa Frank! You live in a free United States because those young Americans, and millions like them, were willing to put down their plows and plans to take on important responsibilities.

-- Joining the Armed Forces is an honorable form of service. Anyone who tries to tell you differently does not know about sacrifice, honor and the bonds of camaraderie that can withstand any such criticism. Yes, military service is honorable, but there are many other admirable ways to serve your country, your state or your community. How do you know if a job or profession is a true form of service? All you have to do is look at those who work in that field. Look at teachers, who spend their own money to buy pencils and books for their students. Look at nurses, who work long, exhausting shifts caring for the injured, the sick and the aged, and who so rarely hear the words, "Thank you." Look at cops, who are paid in complaints. Sacrifice can't be easily measured, but you know it when you see it. Where the sacrifice is, so is the service.

-- Always thank the soldier for his or her service. What he did, he did for you.

-- Never blame the war on the soldier. The sergeant in the foxhole did not start the war. In fact, he wishes it would be over even more than you or I do.

I hope my grandsons will grow up in a world in which war is a memory and the soldier's job is but to guard the peace. This has been the hope of every generation, and I pray it will be the truth of theirs.

But if they one day consider serving in uniform, I hope I, or someone, will remind them what boot camp drill instructors have always known: you don't have to be the bravest, strongest superhero to wear a uniform. A little willingness and enthusiasm have been sufficient turn millions of Americans into effective protectors of our country.

Even Grandpa Frank.