7th Army Symphony:  Tales & Legends


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Compulsory Cleaning
3/19/06, Donald Browne

The orchestra had a 4 day period at a US Army base in Zweibrücken in March, 1957 during which it rehearsed for its forthcoming six week trip to France. The barracks where we were billetted featured two person rooms, which we were supposed to keep ready for inspection, and one day a lieutenant came around with his orderly to see just how soldierly we were. Most rooms were what you'd expect them to be, and the lieutenant was both dismayed and furious. He asked for the names of the individuals inhabiting each room, and threatened severe disciplinary measures. As most of us were away from the barracks at the time, those who were there had to make the identifications, which they did: Bartok, Ravel, Debussy, Prokofiev, etc. All of the names had to be spelled out, and even at that the orderly needed lots of help. If there were any penalties, they never caught up with us!

Our conductor during that tour (and beyond) was Shao Ling Tung, who was the very model of the inscrutable oriental. But we managed to crack his reserve on at least two occasions: once on the French tour, when someone stuck a large photograph of a fully nude and well-endowed blonde in the opening pages of some large musical score; and again in Schwäbisch Gmünd (or Hall-- I forget which one), where we found a bunch of vivid animal masks (it was Fasching) in the auditorium where we were playing, so members of the woodwind section put them on, bent over so that the music stands would hide them from Ling Tung's view, and when his downbeat came, they straightened up. At that, he barely cracked a smile!

And then there was our escort officer (a lieutenant) during the French tour, who was invited to a "wine of honor" in Bordeaux, held just before our concert there. Ling Tung and John Scecina were the only orchestra members present, and they drank very little, but Lt. Boar Hog (so named because he told us before we started the French tour that our MPCs [remember those???] would be "worthless as the tits on a boar hog" once we crossed the border) helped himself, and got so drunk that he went into the orchestra bus (our name was clearly visible on the outside) and vomited and dry-heaved so noisily that people coming to the concert could hear him clearly.

The Rest of the Story - Reciprocity at its Best
2/21/00, Neil C. Roth

Many will remember M-Sgt Claude Hansbrough, the next-to-retirement-age NCO who was responsible for rousing the special services/symphony troops at 6:00 A.M. each morning. We, on the fourth floor, would hear him making his way up the stairwell, his steps reverberating in the concrete stairwell like a present day boombox. Then, he would open the metal door and put his drill whistle to his mouth, blowing sonorous shrillness into the minds of weary artists who were recovering from the stresses of the previous day. He then cried-out in a battle-charge manner: "GET THEM EGGS!!!!!!!"

All who were still living would moan and groan, many of whom would roll over and go back to sleep! Some of us, fearing that the breakfast the good M-SGT. had enjoined us to attend, might just be our last, got up and "GOT THEM EGGS!" Most who did were those of us regular Army folks! However, even a few conscripted members occasionally had breakfast.

This NCO invitation from the good M-SGT. continued for many months. Then, one fine day, while in downtown Stuttgart, someone (I'll never tell who) found a large number of cheap sport whistles for sale in a variety store. An idea was evolving that might just contribute to the nocturnal tranquility of the artists-in-residence of the fourth floor.

The unnamed whistle-broker distributed about twenty shrill-sounding German sports whistles to as many 7ASO members with secret instructions to be revealed the next morning at 6:00 A.M.

As usual, the kindly M-SGT Hanbrough, was heard to be ascending the cave-like stairwell, and when he open the fourth-floor door, he faithfully blew his clarion whistle. BUT, before he had a chance to follow-up with his "GET THEM EGGS" invitation, the alerted and vigilant "twenty whistlers" were responding in harmonious unison in their joint-concert of WHISTLES with their respendent shrills! And, OH, how the noise hit the good M-SGT directly in the ego-plexus!.

He, in critical shock, was heard to say, "This is too much. I can't take you guys any longer!," upon which he descended to more friendly climes. He was reportly never the same, having lost, I'm told, his will to live!

Postscript: The vanquished M-SGT. never again blew his whistle, and if my memory isn't too destroyed after all these years, I don't recall ever being invited to "GET THEM EGGS" again!

P.S. pp. 29-30 of John Canarina's book, Uncle Sam's Orchestra, recounts "just a part" of the story! You've heard the "Rest of the Story" here!

Transient Barracks
7/19/98, Michael Comins

While on tour in Germany during winter 1954-55, we were put up in the transient barracks in Würzburg, home of the Big Red 1 at the time.

The 1st Sgt. of the barracks showed up promptly early in the morning, expecting everyone to jump out of bed, dress, clean the barracks, and be ready for inspection by 8:00 am.

Evidently, no one had informed the barracks staff that we were under travel orders stating that our duty hours were different from the rest of the Army and that we were not to be disturbed in the morning. The Sgt., greeted with catcalls, remarks of "get the f--k out of here", etc. said that he was returning with the Capt. of the barracks in 15 minutes and "we'd better be standing tall".

The Sgt., shouting "Attention!", did indeed enter with the Capt. in 15 minutes only to find (1) a small group of guys playing with Märklin electric trains hastily set up on the floor (2) others slouching against the sides of their bunks in their underwear or wearing nothing (3) still others (including myself) refusing to get up at all (4) Jack Coan in dark shades and beret playing bop licks on his muted trumpet, and when the Capt. went by, exclaiming, "What's happening, prez?" The sight of all this proved to be too much for the Capt. and Sgt. who, shaking their heads in disbelief, beat a hasty retreat.

Journey to & from an Unknown Island
10/8/99, Tom Crown

My stint with the 7ASO began, like many, at Fort Dix. I was scheduled to go on a troop ship, then to my disappointment I was taken off the list. The next day I was told that I would go by plane. Great, I thought, I’ll be there in a day or two.

The flight seemed normal, on a MATS 4 engine propeller plane, seats facing backwards. I think it was scheduled as an 18 hour flight, with one stop at Lajos Field in the Azores for refueling. We landed at Lajos Field, as scheduled, on Terciera Island. We were then told we would stay overnight at the Air Force transient billets as the weather wasn’t good. This seemed fine too. A little rest in the middle of a long flight.

We were driven to the barracks and told to pick our own bunks. Our group was about 40 strong, a mixture of Army and Air Force personnel. First, the weather was bad for a few more days, then rumor had it that the plane needed a new engine which had to be flown in from Europe, then several weeks of no news at all. During this time I paid a visit every day to the airfield to look at our plane. After several weeks it was gone. I didn’t know whether this was a good or bad omen. Later I figured out (I think) that they flew the plane empty to Europe to get the new engine instead of flying the new engine to Lajos.

My schedule at Lajos was to get up at about 10 a.m., then have a leisurely breakfast of whatever I fancied that morning, afterwards a little nap, then lunch. After lunch I practiced the trumpet for a couple of hours, visited the airfield to check on our plane, then read and played a little ping pong until dinner. After dinner there was a movie and a few beers. Not a bad life, if a little boring. Air Force mess hall food was excellent and snacks or breakfast were available 24 hours a day.

Life in the barracks was calm at first until the social differences between the Lowlifes and the rest of us came to the fore. The Lowlifes were mostly RAs, many Hawaiian, (left over from "From Here to Eternity"?) who enjoyed playing cards until 3 in the morning, accompanied by much drinking and an occasional knife fight. The rest of us lay cowering (speaking for myself) in our bunks. Finally one night the Lowlifes decided we were cramping their style and moved into the next barracks, which was empty. This was a big improvement until a couple of nights later when they returned, pounding on our barracks door for us to come out and fight. They were loaded and sour. None of us seemed ready to do battle except for an RA Cpl., a little old man (probably about 45). He got up, went to the door in his underwear and punched the first Lowlife available in the nose. This was a BIG Hawaiian. He fell to the ground and the others all ran. We locked the door and went back to sleep and never saw our friends from hell again until our flight continued to Europe. By then everything seemed to be forgotten. Maybe the fact that the Cpl. was RA helped the Lowlifes to adjust to defeat. This nameless Cpl. has been a hero to me ever since. He represented some moral principle that I haven’t quite figured out yet..

After a month of this dolce far niente I went to the airfield one day and a new plane was in place, ready, I guessed, to continue our flight. We left the next day, flying to Frankfurt. I was well rested and also in good shape, having practiced every day for several hours. In the month I spent at Lajos I had no contact with military "authority" except for the cooks in the mess hall who were rightly proud of their cuisine. During all this time the 7ASO was waiting for their new trumpet player, lost somewhere en route from Fort Dix to Vaihingen. [will continue]

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More Time Off Than Anybody in the Whole Army
3/27/99, Myron Rosenblum

During 1958, the 7ASO made a tour to the northern cities in Western Germany. One of the more important concerts was in the beautiful concert hall of the radio station in Hamburg. This large hall was multi-tiered with steep rises and had fine acoustics. The concert seemed to have been an important one as the audience was filled with top US and German military brass as well as civilians. During a moment of delicate silence, one of the brass players (probably trumpet) sitting on the top tier accidentally dropped his mute. We sat in frozen silence as the mute dropped from tier to tier and made a reverberating and loud clanging noise until it reached the bottom level of the hall. Then the concert resumed.

Immediately after the concert ended, we were all back stage packing up when I noticed a colonel talking animatedly to our escort officer. The good colonel was in the audience and was livid at our very unmilitary conduct during the concert. Not only was the dropping of the mute poor military protocol but he was furious at something else. He was watching the men on the orchestra carefully and noticed that not everybody was playing all the time. From time to time, the orchestra members would put down their instruments and were "taking breaks." This infuriated him further and he loudly proclaimed something to the effect - "THESE MEN HAVE THE EASIEST JOB IN THE WHHOLE DAMNED ARMY WITH ALL THIS TIME OFF WHILE THEY WORK."

Re-enlistment Pitch
4/20/99, Ted Hughart

During one of our characteristically infrequent and short visits to Patch, the orchestra was required to attend a re-enlistment pitch at the end of which Larry Thies, 'cello, brought down the house by loudly burping out "RE-UP."

The attending brass were not amused, but I don't recall them making any attempt to punish Thies.

No Cigars!
4/27/99, George B. Randall

Don MacCourt (Bassoonist supreme) took the stage one night with his reed in his mouth. Overheard at the reception following the concert was an Army Major dressing our Lt. Hord down for allowing his men to come onto the stage smoking cigars.

Strategic Retreat by Lt. Ortiz-Torrez
12/25/99, Ralph Froelich

Escort officer Lt. Benjamin Ortiz-Torrez (do not call me Benny) was seldom seen in civilian clothes. His well kept uniform and Latin temperament often attracted the attenion of the young ladies. I think it was in Kaiserslautern about 1955 where one young lady asked him to dance. As soon as they got onto the dance floor, she pulled a string on something and stood there resplendent in her underpants. Benny beat a hasty retreat.

The Abduction of Lt. Ortiz-Torrez
6/21/98, Ron Rhodes

(1955): The orchestra bus pulled off to the side of the Place de la Concorde and parked. The occasion was an evening of recreation in Paris. In charge was our combat veteran escort officer, Lt. Benjamin Ortiz-Torrez (do not call me Benny).

This evening he was wearing a particularly splendid dress uniform and was the very picture of a dashing, handsome officer. He was spotted immediately by two well dressed ladies of the evening who were strolling by.

Benny (oops, - Lt. Torrez) finished his speech about how we were to behave ourselves and told us to be sure to be back by 3 a.m. He turned and stepped out of the bus. He was then literally scooped up by these two women, who started dragging him down the avenue.

"Help fellows - save me!" he cried (grinning from ear to ear). We all pretended not to hear.

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Exit Lines (I)
7/7/98, Ron Rhodes

(1955): The time came when each of us left Patch Barracks for the last time. Most of us had something to say at that time.

>Lloyd Greenberg came up with one of the most original and effective exit lines. He had been lying quietly on a bunk most of the morning. Then he remarked "Well, I guess I'll get up and go to America now." Rising, he picked up his kit and sauntered out the door.

Exit Lines (II)
7/10/98, Clare G. Rayner

As Sergeant Cloud sat in the car in front of Patch barracks, he asked the Captain (name withheld to protect the guilty), who was personally driving Cloud to the airport in Frankfurt, to wait just a moment.

As always, the Captain dutifully obeyed Cloud, and as Cloud looked out of the window of the car, pointing upward to the third floor (or was it the fourth floor) where the symphony was housed, in his usual mellow manner, he casually commented: "Captain, there have been many Captains before you, and there will be many after you, but there has only been one Cloud Crawford," at which time he summoned the captain to continue, and drive him to the airport.

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Get a Haircut!
9/17/98, Richard N. Rusack

I noted that the famous musicologist and beer drinker extaordinaire, Pogo Rayner, in one of his anecdotes mentioned his duck tail haircut. This immediately triggered this particular story.

Pogo, (being the worlds' first hippy) (who else would wear argyle socks and sandals with his dress uniform for performances!) was walking into the barracks one day when he was accosted by a brand new CO. (we went through them rapidly in those days..)

As I recall , this particular CO was a captain from a Ranger Battalion who had been sent to "shape up the orchestra". He yelled at Pogo, "Hey soldier"! (Obviously Pogo wasn't a soldier) so he kept on walking. Again the CO yelled and again Pogo kept walking.

Finally, in desperation the CO walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. "Who, me? " Yes you!" Pogo said something flip like, "Oh, hi Captain." The CO by this time was not amused and screamed at him, "Get a haircut!" Pogo's reply was,"But captain, I don't need a haircut." "Oh yes you do." "Oh no I don't" said Pogo.

The CO scrutinized Pogo's head one more time and in desperation said, "Why don't you think you need a haircut?" Pogo said, "Because I just got one yesterday," and with that, turned and walked away leaving the CO muttering under his breath and scratching his head...

How I Obtained my Official "Authorized" Moustache
2/19/99, Dan Thomason

My first encounter with the 7ASO was in Würzburg. There we were preparing to go to the World's Fair in Brussels. On our return journey we stayed in various military establishments; some Belgian, some Luxembourgian, some French, and of course some American. I noticed that some of the American enlisted personnel sported moustaches. I thought that was so "swell;" we didn't say "Cool" in those days. When I asked why we in the 7ASO weren't wearing any moustaches I was told they were not allowed. I suppose I asked the wrong person?

After forgetting the subject for a few weeks a miracle happened. A very dapper cat showed up at Patch one day. He was elegant with his pipe in hand, violin case in the other, and YES he had a real "groovy" moustache. He was PFC Larry Frost and had just transferred in from one of those "other" companies where 'staches were allowed. I figured that if Frost has a 'stache then so can Thomason.

Quite secretly I began to grow a moustache. We did some runout concerts from Stuttgart and little by little the thing started to take shape, albeit pretty weird looking for a while. Then Lt. Hord noticed it and at first thought it was funny. "You're going to have to cut that thing off you know." Word got out so, I suppose in support, a whole bunch of the other "cats" started growing 'staches too. Some of them were hilarious; one fellow's grew upwards into his nose.

After a while the peas hit the fan and we had a "meeting" on the company street, Lt. Hord presiding! "By tomorrow morning at 0600 hours there will be no unauthorized moustaches in The 7th Army Symphony." Of course I panicked. I went up to Larry Frost and asked him how he got his 'stache "authorized." He told me that the I.D. card (that little green job we had to carry around all the time) had to have the moustache on your mug so that when anyone asked to see it you would be one and the same person.

What to do? Somehow my green card mysteriously disappeared, just like that. The only thing I could do was to go to that little office on post and tell the guy there that I somehow lost my card; would he be so kind as to issue me a new one(?) "Sure, but you will have to get a photo taken." "No problem," I said.

The next morning at 6:00 AM we were all in formation. Lt. Hord was very pleased that the fellows had complied and were properly shaved, until he spotted me. "THOMASON, I thought I told you that there will be NO unauthorized moustaches in the 7th Army Symphony." "But Sir, mine IS authorized, see." He was not amused.

We were dismissed only to have to make another formation later in the day, Lt. Hord presiding. "Men, listen up. There are only two authorized moustaches in the 7th Army Symphony...Frost's and Thomason's. Dismissed."

I have been wearing my moustache ever since those days; can't part with it now.

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