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04-23-06, 09:05 AM #1
Fate smiled on a young Marine from Norwich
Article published Apr 23, 2006
Column: Fate smiled on a young Marine from Norwich
By Bill Stanley
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, a beautiful Rosemary Clooney, with Guy Lombardo, performed "Your Hit Parade" from Parris Island, S.C.
Years gone by, the "Hit Parade" broadcast from military bases throughout the world was a radio favorite. The war years brought Bob Hope and the USO into prominence, and radio, in those days, was the only communication other than newspapers.
It was an era when Edward R. Murrow broadcast from London. Lowell Thomas and Gabriel Heater did the network news, and all of the kids listened to Uncle Don on the radio at 6 every night. There were 15-minute radio shows that were, to children of those days, like Big Bird and "Sesame Street" are today.
The Korean War was under way when I took this picture. Though they called it a police action, it was war. The Marines were attracting more recruits than they could handle. Parris Island's new recruits had to live in tent cities because the barracks were overflowing.
It was at that time the Guy Lombardo Orchestra and Clooney played in the coliseum for the Marines at Parris Island. It turned out to be a historic day for me -- one of very good fortune.
I was a corporal at the prime, assigned to the photo lab. I photographed recruits for their ID cards and service record books. I have often said I shot more Marines than the enemy. Of course, I shot them with a camera.
The night Clooney appeared, so many fellows wanted a picture with her. This picture of two Marines was taken backstage. I took dozens of pictures that night.
It happened a man in civilian clothes approached and said, "I want a picture with Rosemary Clooney and Guy Lombardo."
I was about to tell him I was using Marine Corps film and couldn't take civilian pictures. Colonel Lonagan, chief of staff, approached and whispered in my ear, "This is the new commanding general, corporal. Take his picture."
So, I placed General Silverthorne between Clooney and Lombardo, and the picture was beautiful. As the flash went off, everybody's eyes were open, and they all had broad smiles.
General Silverthorne said, "Take another," and my response was, "That will be fine, sir. It is a good picture."
Colonel Lonagan said, "Take another to be sure, corporal," to which I said, "That was my last piece of film, colonel."
It better come out good," the colonel said, and it did.
I didn't wait for the show, but raced to the photo lab and printed 12 copies of the picture of the former assistant commander of the Marine Corps, now commanding officer at Parris Island, with Clooney and Lombardo. Now, of course, it would be better if I had that picture, but as they say, that was an official Marine Corps photo committed to the official archives.
The following day, there was a change of command. The temperature on the drill field was 110 degrees. It was August in South Carolina. There were 17 Marine Corps photographers from headquarters in Washington and Parris Island. The secretary of the Navy was there. The commandant of the Marine Corps was present, as was the Marine Band from Quantico, Va. That day, in the hot sun, for the first time in my life, I saw Marines march 32 abreast. There must have been 10,000. It was awesome.
When the ceremony was done, all of the photographers raced to the dental lab next to the drill field. Motor transport would pick them up, but while they waited in the air-conditioned dental lab, what they didn't know was there was an active X-ray machine which was fogging all of their film. As they returned to the photo lab, I was still photographing recruits for their ID cards.
I avoided the heat and the misfortune. That important day, when the Marines had a change of command, there were no official Marine Corps pictures at all. For the Marines not to have pictures of every event is not only unacceptable, it is unthinkable.
The following morning, my photo officer, Lieutenant Waugh, approached me while I was photographing still more recruits. In a very excited voice, he said, "Stanley, do you know the new general?"
I responded, "No, sir."
He said, "He's sending his car for you. Get into some khakis," as I was working in dungarees.
"The general's driver will pick you up."
I was driven to headquarters and escorted to the general's office.
Lonagan's secretary was a Marine from Philadelphia named Mary Pasagno. The night I took pictures of the general, stamped my name, Corporal Stanley, on the back, brought 12 copies to Mary at the women's barracks and asked her to give them to the colonel for the general.
Mary was all smiles as I walked into the office. Lonagan said, "Stanley, the general will see you in a few minutes," and I waited.
As I was ushered into the general's office, he was signing letters, and I stood at attention. Without looking up, he said, "At ease," and I stood for a few minutes more.
Finally, he pushed his chair back, looked up, and with appropriate Marine Corps expletives, said, "I guess you're the only Marine on this damn island who knows how to take a picture."
Of course, he was talking about the picture with himself and Lombardo and Clooney. He then said, "As long as I'm aboard this base, you are going to follow me everywhere, corporal."
So, because of a hot day and a change of command, when all other photographers had fogged film, Corporal Stanley of Norwich became General Silverthorne's personal photographer.
Fate is often good. Working with the general would give me an unbelievable opportunity to be available to my mother after she had a severe, crippling auto accident. By then, I was staff sergeant, and Silverthorne had me transferred to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton as commander of the guard. They also gave me 30 days travel time to get from Parris Island to the sub base which, of course, only took one day.
I stayed with my mother all night, and her sister, Doris Dugas, stayed with her throughout the day. It was the best duty I ever had, commander of the guard at the sub base, at a time when the Marine Corps had 80 men aboard and handled all security.
As a Marine, there was a natural rivalry between the Navy and the Corps, but the time I spent with the submarine men gave me a new respect for the "silent service." I served under captain Sieglaff, one of the great heroes of World War II -- a Navy Capt. whose submarine, the Tautog, shot down the first Japanese airplane of the war Dec. 7, 1941.
He received the Navy Cross not once, but twice. This is the highest decoration the Navy could give. His submarine sank 26 Japanese vessels, more than any other submarine in the entire war.
This morning's picture has been in my collection for years, and every time I see it, I think of how lucky I was to have taken a picture with a major general of the Marine Corps, Lombardo and Clooney.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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