Two Years to the Day
The United States Army Band’s Deployment to North Africa, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium During World War II . . . and more
Two thousand and twenty-two marks one hundred years since the founding of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the premier musical organization of the United States Army. The band was formed on January 25, 1922, by order of General John J. Pershing who believed that bands were critical for troop morale and efficiency. During World War I, General Pershing was the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in Europe. He felt strongly that his Army needed a band that could match or even surpass the fine bands he had heard in Europe.
Fort Hunt, Virginia was the band’s first home. In September 1922, they relocated to Washington Barracks (now Fort McNair) where they remained until the fall of 1942 when they moved to Fort Myer, Virginia (now Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall—JBM-HH) on the western edge of Arlington National Cemetery. Their first radio broadcast took place in April 1923, and they performed at the ceremony (center photo above) honoring Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. The band traveled to Seville, Spain in 1929 to perform at the Ibero-American Exposition, and by 1930, they were making over 230 radio broadcasts every year. Averaging more than four broadcasts per week, they soon became the most popular band on the radio.
Between May and August 1940, the U. S. Army Band was in residence at the New York World’s Fair. Three years later, they would embark on the longest overseas deployment of any major U. S. military band in history.
Some of you will know that my protagonist Phee Swensson’s older brother Jamie is a trumpet player in The United States Army Band during World War II. My husband Joe was a trombonist in the band from April 1974 to June 1979, performing with the Army Blues (jazz ensemble), the Ceremonial Band (Joe estimates he played for over 500 funerals at Arlington National Cemetery), and the Herald Trumpets.
Last month, Joe and I attended the 100th anniversary celebration for band alumni, with concerts and tours and receptions on the agenda. A wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier ended the weekend’s events. It was great fun reconnecting with so many people, some we’d not seen for over forty years. The Friday night concert, held in Comny Hall at JBM-HH, involved both alums (including Joe) and active-duty personnel. I was told the massive video screen you see in the photos above is fifteen million pixels wide and one million pixels tall. They use Comny Hall for all sorts of ceremonies and concerts now. It’s quite impressive.
Because of my connection to friendly and helpful band alumni, I was able to get my hands on transcripts of two diaries that were written by two of the WWII bandsmen—Bill Bachman (BB—trumpet) and Harry Savage (HS—tuba). The diaries were a wealth of information for me as I developed my Jamie character. I’ll include several quotes from their diaries below.
[Note: Keig Garvin, who was the lead/solo trombonist in the WWII band, lived his first eleven years in Estherville, Iowa which is about fifty miles north and west of Algona where my novel, My Mother’s Friend, takes place. Small world.]
Departing Fort Myer on June 15th, and after an eight-day sailing from Newport News, Virginia, the band’s first destination was Casablanca. [Note: Casablanca the movie, shot almost entirely in Burbank, California, was released in January 1943, just a few months prior to the band’s arrival there on June 25th.] They left Casablanca on July 9th, traveling by train to Algiers, Algeria, their home base for the next nine months. (Photo: performing in Algiers)
In early September 1943, the band was sent from Algiers to Sicily aboard the SS Lawton B. Evans. Two months earlier, the Allies had launched a massive amphibious assault on the southern shores of the island. By mid-August, the Allied victory was declared. The band’s Sicilian tour included Palermo, Ragusa, Catania, and Piedimonte. Several of the men contracted dysentery, and most were more than ready to leave the island. They returned to Algiers on Tuesday, October 5th, and all were glad to be “home.” (Photo: by Harry Savage)
BB 09-17-44: “Catania is an interesting looking city but some areas have suffered substantial war damage. The people who own the house where we spent the first night invited us over this evening for a spaghetti dinner. Because of the war, the spaghetti lacked some of the ingredients it normally would have but we had a nice time. The elderly woman who may have been the grandmother played the piano. She was excellent. And then she showed us dozens and dozens of songs, arias and piano selections autographed by Enrico Caruso. She was his piano accompanist on his Sicilian tour.”
With orders to head to the UK, the band departed Algiers on the HMS Letitia (a British transport ship) on April 7th.
BB 04-09-44: “After tea I took a turn around the deck, watched the sunset, and then went down to string my hammock. I stood for a time at the hatch above the German prisoners and listened to them sing. They seem to be a happy lot. I never had heard most of the songs they sang, but I did recognize a Brahms melody and was surprised to hear Beer Barrel Polka sung in German. [Bill and two other trumpeters performed Beer Barrel Polka with the band on many of their concerts.] I’ve seen them out on deck a few times and they look like well disciplined soldiers. Many of the British and Americans have admired their bearing. I have never heard such a conglomeration of languages as is heard on this boat. The chatter of the Italians is heard above the others, but the undertow is French, German, Polish, English, and whatever the Slavs below us speak.”
They dropped anchor at Gibraltar on April 10th for a few hours, then continued on to Scotland, arriving there a week later. They pulled in next to the RMS Queen Mary (see my June 23, 2021 blog “R(oyal) M(ail) S(hip) Queen Mary” https://www.sallyjamesonbond.com/post/r-oyal-m-ail-s-hip-queen-mary).
Traveling once again by train, the band finally arrived in London on April 20th. At King’s Cross station, they boarded military buses and were transported to an American camp in Bushy Park in southwest London. Bushy Park remained their home base for the next five months.
(Jack Koman and Harry Savage
in front of Buckingham Palace)
General Dwight Eisenhower planned the D-Day invasion from his headquarters at Camp Griffiss in Bushy Park. Today, a memorial dedicated to the troops who fell on D-Day is located at the spot where General Eisenhower’s tent stood.
HS 04-30-44: “Yesterday afternoon a group of us played a wedding reception for the aide of Gen. Smith for whom we had worked in Africa. Who the aide was or who he married I never knew. We were interested in the lovely old home and the guests present, among whom were Gen. Eisenhower and Elliot Roosevelt [President Franklin Roosevelt’s son]. Gen. Smith, at whose home the reception was held, was as nice to us as if we’d all been colonels. The Gen. was quite pleased with our efforts and we’re booked for another affair next week.”
HS 06-19-44: “We got back here yesterday p.m. about 3 o’clock to wish very shortly that we were still on tour. The new German pilotless planes are causing a lot of havoc. We weren’t in 30 min. when the Tannoy (p.a. system) announced “imminent danger—seek shelter.” And almost before he had it out, a thundering crash came somewhere in the distance and a second announcement came “raider has crashed—personnel may leave shelter.” We hadn’t had time to get to a shelter even. Later in the evening . . . I heard a deadly heavy roar and got my first glimpse of the missile. They look in the air very much like a fighter plane except that there’s a violent short spurt of flame which comes out the back . . . They have fallen on homes & churches and business houses and God only knows how many people have been killed in the 3 or 4 days they’ve been in use. It begins to make us wonder about the war again.”
(Four photos above: Glasgow--mail call, a concert, their hotel; Edinburgh--a concert)
In August, a nice break for the band occurred when they traveled north to Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland for two weeks.
HS 08-05-44: “We played at a soccer or rugby game this afternoon (I can’t tell which is which or if there is a difference!). The stands were packed and since this was the 1st game of the season there was quite a pageant put on before the game & during halftime. Some ATJ girls did some native dances, a massed pipe band played, a unit from every “woman at war” group marched in review. And, of course, we played. The whole thing was very colorful & spectacular . . . I like Scotland better than ever and in this one short day find myself passionately in love with Edinburgh.”
Monday, October 2nd found the band flying across the English Channel to Paris. It was the first time most of the men had flown.
HS 10-04-44: “There were 3 planes which ferried back and forth, taking us and our tremendous amount of baggage over. Each plane took about 18 men . . . My trip left Hendon Aerodrome, London, shortly after 1 o’clock Mon. afternoon and an hr. & 20 min. later we set down on a field near Paris . . . Just how we got the priority and what our assigned mission is here we don’t know, at least not yet. The officer who called the roll as we boarded the plane in London asked us how the hell we rated air travel! We strapped our safety belts on, took a deep breath and went tearing down the runway. You’re never sure just when you leave the ground and before you realize it’s possible, you’re looking down on rooftops that are getting smaller as they slide beneath & behind you. Leaving London we got some views that we had wanted but never expected to get. From the air, Buckingham Palace & the parks & the river take on an added attractiveness. Before we tho’t we could, we got to the channel coast & simply gloated over the poor devils crossing on floating craft below us . . . It took very little time to cross the channel & there was the French coast below us—and then the farms and country villages and the forests . . . We were soon over territory that had very recently been in German hands, and in several fields where they were no doubt very recently encamped we saw bomb craters by the hundreds . . . Quite soon we were over Paris—we knew by the Eiffel tower—and our trip was done.”
The band stayed in barracks at Versailles, their home base for the next eleven days.
HS 10-04-44: “We got into trucks and were brought to . . . Versailles where we presume we’re to be ‘at home’ for the duration. These barracks were used by Germans until they hurried out 6 or 7 weeks ago and the signs in German are still posted pretty well all over camp. They managed to do a little destroying before they got away but really very little. The electric wires were cut so that we had no lights our first 2 days, but they have been repaired now. We have spent these 2 days requisitioning (an Army term for stealing) whatever equipment we could find to make our quarter a bit more livable . . . The mess hall is rather a far cry from what we were used to at Bushy. There’s a lot of dehydrated food and C-ration almost every day for lunch.”
Their next home base was Verdun, about 140 east of Paris.
HS 10-18-44: “I know I am not going to be able to put on paper—certainly not with any justice at all—the experience we have just had. There have been a few stand out experiences since we have been overseas that put chills in my spine (either from just sheer feeling good or actual fear)—our first parade in Casablanca, the Christmas party we gave the orphans in the monastery in Algiers, the trip to Sicily on a Liberty ship loaded with T.N.T., a few close buzz bombs in London. And this is not to say this morning’s tops the others. It’s just that it was vastly different . . . this morning we played inside a German concentration camp—a camp housing some 2 or 3000 Russian, Polish, Check (?) men women and children who were brought from their pillaged homes to do slave labor for the Nazis. Of course, the camp has been free and is on the edge of Verdun . . . But there is no way as yet to get these people back to their own countries . . . We played inside a large barn and our audience . . . must have been just about everybody in camp . . . The women and children were given the front seats, the men stood at the rear and some of them climbed up to the rafters. We opened and closed with the Russian anthem and in between played a little Tchaikovsky and simple Amer. tunes . . . Afterwards a group of 35 of our hosts played, sang and danced for us. There was an old beat up piano in the bldg, and the pianist, who was also choral director, was augmented by 3 or 4 mandolin sort of instruments and accordions. They sang and played with a lusty and healthy zest that comes natural only to an outdoor peasant people . . . Tho they look foreign to us with their high cheek bones and the broad flat faces they could easily be taken for any people anywhere when they laugh. That’s the one thing everybody in the world does alike. Why in God’s name we don’t learn that and laugh with each other instead of fighting periodic wars surely even Hitler doesn’t know!”
[Note: Bill Bachman’s diary ended on November 24th.]
After touring in Belgium (Spa, Antwerp) and several cities in northern France (Paris, Reims, Le Havre, Rouen, Lille, Cherbourg) . . .
. . . the band finally settled in Paris in the Danish Building at the University of Paris in early January. They were there when Germany surrendered on 8 May (see my May 4, 2022 blog “Victory in Europe—Part One” https://www.sallyjamesonbond.com/post/victory-in-europe-part-one to read Harry’s account of V-E Day in Paris). On May 16th, the band left for the Riviera (Marseille, Nice). They flew to Frankfurt, Germany on June 7th.
HS 06-09-45: “We flew here last Thursday and were notified yesterday that after a ceremony here tomorrow in honor of the Russian Gen. Zukov we’re to fly to America—leaving Monday night—to play for the Gen Eisenhower reception in Wash and N.Y. next week. All the sightseeing and souvenir hunting we’ve been putting off we have put off too long. But nobody cares! We’re going home! Shupe and I were downtown this morning to make a few pictures but there’s not much to make pictures of but bomb damage. Frankfurt must be worse hit than any English blitzed town we saw there. It’s difficult to tell just how the people feel toward you. Not a soul spoke to us except the shop keeper in a little stationery store where we stopped to buy post cards. A few people look at you on the street but for the most part they go their ways with self contained if not stony disregard. The non-fraternization policy makes it worth at least $65 to an Amer soldier who carries on a conversation with a German. More intimate “fraternizing” means 5 or 6 months in the guard house and forfeiture of 2/3 pay for that time . . . Leaving on such short notice is a little hard—not to say a little unfair—to the boys who have heart throbs in Paris—and I think some of them really were genuine.”
The band’s departure from Frankfurt to America was delayed by rain.
HS 06-12-45 (final diary entry): “Are we biting our nails now!! Tonite we’re supposed to be stepping off a plane at Bolling Field Washington D.C. and here we sit like so many drowning rats grounded by rainy weather!! We were at the airport Sun morning to meet Gen Montgomery when he got off his plane. Thirty min later we repeated the process for Marshall Zukof who came to Frankfurt to pin a Russian decoration on Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower. As is customary, we played a march while the honored guest “inspected the troops”—and we were surprised to have a Col Rosenfeld who is in charge of ceremonies of this kind for SHAEF—ask the Capt to stop the music. Then Marshall Zukof made a little thank you speech [via an interpreter]. He said that he was overwhelmed at such a reception and a lot of other things I have naturally already forgotten . . . He did seem pleased with the band and the Russian photographers were buzzing around us like bees . . . We played for a party of high ranking U.S. and British officers Sun nite at a very beautiful villa several miles out of town and were kidded about going home the next day. And when the next day came the rains came—and they’ve been coming ever since—and we still haven’t gone home. But the old man tells us that tomorrow we leave whether or not the weather is good. If it’s good we fly to Paris. If it isn’t we go there by truck—a 2 day trip. That’s vastly different from the 2 hr trip by air but it’s better than sitting here biting our nails.”
The band finally flew home to Washington D.C. on Friday, June 15, 1945, two years to the day after they left Fort Myer.
(Photos above from the Jack Koman Collection)
In July 2018, I got to perform with “Pershing’s Own.” It’s kind of a long story, but essentially, I asked if I could, and they said “yes.” I’d just finished my last semester with Joe’s bands at Roanoke College, so I was in pretty good shape. Before we left home, Joe and I played a lot of duets and marches, and we had access to the music for a couple of pieces we knew would be on the program. I bought a white band shirt, and I was all set.
When we got home from the concert, I composed an essay/letter to help me remember what had happened that night on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol Building. I shared the essay/letter with some folks at the time, and I’ll share it with all of you below. Feel free to skip it if you’ve already seen it.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her (soon to be published) debut novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.
Sitting in a Pool of Excellence
[As most of you know, Joe and I attended the Army Band alumni reunion event last week. At my request, I was invited to perform with the band which was comprised of active-duty Army Band musicians, some alums (maybe a dozen or a few more), and one intern. (I think she’s in high school in the area . . . plays French horn.) These reunion concerts have taken place every year except one since 2002. Joe has played in all of them. This was my first . . . and last. Other reunion activities included a Thursday morning rehearsal, a three-hour tour of Arlington Cemetery with a stop at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Changing of the Guard ceremony, and the Friday lunch/business meeting where I was asked to say a few words about my book (because one of my characters is a trumpet player in the Army Band during WWII). That was nice.]
Did you want to attend the Friday night Army Band concert but couldn’t? Well, you’re in luck! (Maybe…) Here’s what transpired between 6:30 pm and 10:00 pm last Friday, 13 July 2018.
Just past 6:30, two large tour buses (one of them brand new) full of Army and civilian musicians and a few family members departed Brucker Hall (home of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own”—TUSAB for short) at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (formerly Fort Myer) which is located on the west side of Arlington National Cemetery. Joe and I sat together, about five or six rows back, on the left. (Our horns were in the “cargo hold” underneath.) We drove through the north gate (which is no longer used regularly) and caught Hwy 50 towards Washington, DC. As we crossed the Potomac via the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, I noticed some major construction happening just south of the Kennedy Center (where Joe and I worked as ushers in the Concert Hall from 1974 to 1979). It was difficult to tell what was happening there, but a quick Google search tells me it’s a $250 million expansion, the first in its 47-year history. If you’re curious, search for yourself.
Of course, traffic was horrendous but typical for a Friday evening, I’m sure. Are all those people heading to the band concert on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol Building? Well, no, but a sizeable number of them did turn out for the concert. (We think it was the largest crowd we’ve seen for one of these Friday night Capitol concerts, maybe because the weather was near perfect.) We drove up Constitution Avenue, past the Albert Einstein sculpture at the National Academy of Sciences, the Federal Reserve, the Department of the Interior, and the Ellipse Park south of the White House. Further on are the Department of Justice, the EPA, the Federal Trade Commission, the IRS, and the National Archives. We reached our destination around 7:00 pm, grabbed our horns, and walked swiftly up the long, slightly inclined sidewalk to the concert venue. (Our “uniform” for the evening consisted of dark pants and shoes and white TUSAB polo shirts with the Army Band logo stitched on the top left side. Joe has had his white shirt for a few years. I’ve had mine since early June.)
After our horns were assembled and our necessary paraphernalia (trombone stands, mutes, water bottles, etc.) was gathered, we headed to the place where our chairs were placed (slightly stage left in front of the percussion) except there was no chair for Sally. Hmmm…. There were six of us in the trombone section and only five chairs. Not to worry. They bring extras and before long I was sitting between Jerry Amoury (my stand mate…he’ll retire in a few months) and Joe. (At rehearsal on Thursday morning, it was decided that I should play second so we’d have two firsts, two seconds, and two thirds. I was okay with that. I’d been playing third in Joe’s bands for the past couple of years, but I always preferred second. And it turns out Jerry is The Nicest Guy and absolutely the best stand mate I could have wanted. So, lucky me!)
A further word about the weather . . . Last summer, the Friday night concert was cancelled due to the heat index being above 100 in downtown D.C. They couldn’t move it back to Brucker Hall because the ceiling over the stage in the large hall was undergoing repairs. So, no concert last year. Poop. This year, had it rained or had the heat once again precluded us from having an outdoor concert, we would have moved back to Brucker Hall. Fortunately for all the performers and for all those attending, it was a gorgeous evening! One of the nicest ever, we thought. As concert time approached (8:00 pm) the sun was directly in front of us, about 4 inches from the horizon (hold up your fingers—you’ll get it) – almost blinding but not quite. We were allowed to wear sunglasses and I did until I didn’t need them. There was a slight breeze (we had “wind clips” to keep our music in place) and no bugs that I noticed. Just perfect, really.
There was a sound check involving the Herald Trumpets, the Army Chorus, and the Concert Band. All that was completed around 7:30 pm. For the next half hour, I took some photos and talked to Jerry and Gary Ryan (alum on first) and tried to get my mind right. I wasn’t nervous or anxious – I was just trying to soak it all in. (There was a lot to soak!)
Joe and I both felt the program was particularly good this year. There was a nice variety of pieces, some serious, some not so serious, and most were very challenging. (Well, they were challenging for me, anyway—one rehearsal, remember?) Colonel Andrew Esch, Leader and Commander of TUSAB, conducted most of the pieces, and Colonel Timothy Holton, former Leader and Commander who retired in 2017, conducted three pieces. Some years they have more than one former leader conduct one piece each, or another officer will conduct a piece, so this year was a bit different. It was also different in that they usually have at least two soloists (vocal and/or instrumental) perform with the band. This year there was just one. Dave Detweiler, who retired in 2000, was in the band when Joe was there in the 70s. He performed “Wild About Harry” (James/McCoy) and I’m sure it was most entertaining, but I was concentrating on all those small hand-written notes on the page, so I pretty much missed his performance. The crowd loved it.
Two of the most challenging pieces we did were written by John Williams: “The Cowboys” (from the movie starring John Wayne) and “Superman”. I had played “The Cowboys” at Roanoke College somewhat recently so that really helped. The rhythms in “Superman” made my head spin, but I think I did okay, considering. Other pieces on the program that might sound familiar to some of you include “Irish Tune from County Derry” (“Danny Boy”), “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (the arrangement that some of you performed at All State in Iowa back in the day), “Pines of the Appian Way” (Respighi), and, of course, we ended with “Stars and Stripes Forever” (no balloons this time!).
We had to stand and play three different times during the concert: as we played the National Anthem; the end of the traditional “Armed Services Medley” when we played the Army song; and the end of “Stars and Stripes”. Well, that was a challenge for me as I don’t have those pieces memorized like most of the Army guys do. Joe said he played the National Anthem and “Stars and Stripes” from memory. I guess it all came back to him, somehow.
This year, for the first time (in our experiences), they had a female announcer for the program. She plays English horn in the band and had a solo in “Pines of the Appian Way”. While introducing the piece, she said that while all the brass players think the best part of the piece is when it gets REALLY LOUD at the end, she knows the best part is near the beginning when the English horn has a quiet solo. The audience gave her some appreciative applause (and a bit of chuckling) at the conclusion of her solo. It was nice. (That’s a great piece, by the way. Find it on YouTube if you don’t know it.)
So, because I was sitting second chair second part, I had a “job” to make sure the music was in place and clipped and easy for Jerry to read. We had small stand lights that weren’t particularly bright so it was somewhat of a challenge to position multi-page pieces so that we both could read them. Also, the wind clips were made of Plexiglas and, from my vantage point, the notes under the clip were sometimes distorted. So, I found myself moving the clip away from notes whenever possible. It mostly worked okay.
Before we performed the “Armed Forces Medley” (also a tradition on these concerts), they asked all the alums who were active duty during the Vietnam era (1955-1975) to stand and be recognized. They were given a pin suitable for wearing on a lapel. It’s really nice. (Joe got one as he enlisted in 1973.) They also gave pins to audience members who met the same criteria. A nice gesture, I think.
The concert lasted just about an hour or slightly longer. It wasn’t quite dark then but almost. The Capitol building is beautiful at night. It would have been nice to linger but we had to get back to the bus for the trip back across the Potomac. There was a reception at Brucker Hall after the concert and we stayed for a short time before heading back to our motel on Columbia Pike. I was exhausted but in a good way.
The title of this “essay” came to me earlier today. I was trying to think of a word or words to describe what I experienced Friday night. I’ve played in many bands over the past 55+ years. Some have been very good – some not so good. I’ve had some amazing musical experiences in my lifetime, to be sure. I do believe this one tops them all. The Army Band is one of the best bands in the world and I got to play with them. It was an honor and a privilege, and I will be forever grateful. Wish you could have been there.
[I couldn’t have done this without Joe’s help. In the weeks leading up to the reunion event, we played marches (copies he’d had since his Army Band days) and other significant band music to help get my site-reading chops in shape. When we got bored doing that, we’d play duets. When we got bored doing that . . . well, I guess we hung it up for the day. I was so pleased that we got to sit next to each other Friday night. It’s how we met in 1970 at the University of Iowa (me on second, Joe on third). I decided this experience would be my last as a trombonist. I may change my mind about that down the road, but I won’t be playing again until I finish my book. Now that this “essay” is finished, I’d better get back to that!]
Heroic Fanfare (Murtha) — Herald Trumpets
Opener and National Anthem
Salute to Veterans (Allen) — Concert Band, Herald Trumpets
The Cowboys (Williams/Curnow) — Concert Band
Wild About Harry (James/McCoy) — Concert Band with MSG (ret.) Dave Detwiler, trumpet soloist
Irish Tune from County Derry (Grainger) — Concert Band
Entry of the Boyars (Halvorsen/Fennell) — Concert Band
Superman (Williams/Lavender) — Concert Band
Testament of Freedom (Thompson) — Concert Band, Chorus
Battle Hymn of the Republic (Steffe/ Wilhousky/Neilson) — Concert Band, Chorus
Armed Forces Medley (Brown/Murtha) — Concert Band, Chorus, Herald Trumpets
Pines of the Appian Way (Respighi/Duker) — Concert Band, Herald Trumpets
Stars and Stripes Forever (Sousa)