Article published Feb 4, 2008
Remembering mom, music in the Marines

Years ago my uncle, Frank Gavin, placed a hand on my shoulder as I prepared to depart my Schuyler County home for the confines of Parris Island, S.C.

His advice to me was to expect the unexpected. Here is the unexpected!

I think often of the day our ship returned from overseas and tied up at Quonset Point, R.I., our home base. Scores of people waited dockside as sailors and Marines readied to leave the craft to reunite with loved ones. As the gangway was secured and men scurried off the ship, a band saluted the returning warriors with that 1947 smash hit, “The Woody Woodpecker Song.”

You know that old saying, “Mother knows best.” Top secret was our movement from Camp Lejeune, N.C. to Norfolk, Va., on another occasion. About to hustle aboard one of the Navy's newest aircraft carriers, the USS Phillipine Sea, we pondered our secret destination. Given a couple of moments to catch our breath, I used the occasion to read a letter from my mother.

An attached newspaper article told of the Eighth Marine Regiment boarding ships at Norfolk with the Mediterranean Sea as a destination. We were to relieve a carrier and other ships of the Sixth Fleet. We promoted my mother to the rank of honorary informant.

We soon discovered the presence within our ship's quarters of a lover of music. As the ship plowed across the Atlantic Ocean, we learned there were very few musical recordings to draw from. We soon had memorized the words to Vaughn Monroe's hit, “Dance, Ballerina, Dance.” Getting the words down pat was no trouble because they drifted throughout our quarters morning, noon and night day in and day out. We got to where we loved that stern command, “General Quarters, man your battle stations!” That quieted Vaughn Monroe for at least a couple of hours and probably saved the life of the owner of the recording.

I left the active duty Marine Corps in 1948 feeling my time was over. But the North Koreans stirred up a ruckus in 1950. I chatted with Bill Simiele, a fellow Marine reservist in Watkins Glen, and was shocked to learn that he had been recalled to active duty. My turn came just a few days later. Great timing! The large, official manila envelope arrived on my birthday.

Seems I spent most of my active duty time on trains. I reported to Camp Lejeune, N.C., was transferred to Hastings, Neb., and was sent from there to Parris Island, S.C. You might say I didn't know if I was coming or going. Like my uncle said: Expect the unexpected.

A highlight of all that moving around took place somewhere in the Midwest. Some truck driver tried to negotiate a grade crossing with our passenger train bearing down on him. He didn't make it. Our diesel engine slammed into a trailer loaded with canned pumpkin.

Quite a site was the front of a diesel engine wearing a solid coating of pumpkin. Had Charlie Brown from the Charles M. Schulz cartoon strip been around I'm quite certain he would have taken one look at that engine and declared he had at last caught up with The Great Pumpkin.

And there would have been an exasperated Lucy exclaiming “You blockhead, Charlie Brown!”