[Dixielandjazz] 'Sittin' on the Valley Forge

JimDBB at aol.com JimDBB at aol.com
Mon Mar 31 17:33:00 PST 2003

'Sittin' in on the U.S.S. Valley Forge

By Jim Beebe

Aircraft carriers have very much been in the news in recent times.  It seems 
that every night there is something on various news shows about our Aircraft 
carriers that are serving in the Gulf.  Sorties against Iraq are taking off 
day and night.  All of this brought back to me a trifling and amusing 
incident that took place many years ago.

In 1952 the Korean War was in full swing, though a recent Truce had been 
signed.  Everyone involved fully expected hostilities to break out again and 
so even dubious warriors such as myself found ourselves in one of the U.S. 
military services.  My luck of the draw was the U.S. Marines. In truth I was 
dropping out of Beloit College and so I went down and signed up, rather than 
be drafted.
My mother thought the Marines were a hot deal and I guess I thought that I 
could save some face with this maneuver.  Perhaps, though, I had in the back 
of my mind, the first recording that I acquired as a child.  It was a 78 
recording of the U.S. Marine Band playing Reeves 22nd. Connecticut Regiment 
March.  I still have that recording somewhere and it still sounds great.  
This is still one of my favorite marches and Ron Hockett, who played in the 
Marine Band for 25 years, told me a few years back that this classic march is 
still very popular on the East Coast and almost has a hit tune status there.

After a harrowing trip through boot camp in San Deigo and a weird audition 
for the Band ( the Drill Instructors hated the band) I was sent to the Dept. 
of Pacific Marine Corps Band, that was stationed at Treasure Island, a Navy 
base off of San Francisco.  I was stationed here for a year before going 
overseas to the Far East and this year was a remarkable one for me.  The 
Marine Corps band was a good one and I was getting lots of playing in on all 
kinds of music.  Almost every worthwhile jazz group or artist in the country 
came through Frisco in that year and I caught most of them.  Frisco was 
loaded with service men returning from Korea and Japan through Treasure 
Island and the Presidio.  The Jazz Clubs such as the Hangover and the 
Blackhawk were not fussy about checking IDs…many of the service men including 
myself were underage.

One day, out of the blue, I got a call from a high school buddy of mine, 
Harley Rooker.  Rooker was a fine drummer and he and I were in the high 
school band together along with the dance band and my Dixie combo.   I knew 
that Rooker had gone in the Navy but I didn't know where he was.  He now 
informed me that he was a musician on the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Valley 
Forge.  Large ships like carriers usually had a small band compliment of 19 
musicians or so.  They also had other duties
and usually served in damage control.

My old friend, Rooker, told me that the Valley Forge had just returned from 
duty off of Korea and would be in port for a few weeks.  We talked and agreed 
to meet later in the city.  We met in a Jazz Club in Frisco and went out on 
the town.  Later Rooker suggested that I stay aboard ship with him that 
night.  I resisted but I didn't have to be in the next morning and he assured 
me that it would be alright.  The next thing I knew we were aboard this 
gigantic floating city.  Talk about 'shock and awe.'  You can view pictures 
and movies of these ships but you will never appreciate how awesome they 
truly are until you are actually in one.  Rooker got me a bunk and said that 
he would show me around in the morning.

All of a sudden…it's morning… very early in the morning and there is a 
tremendous hubbub with everyone getting up and dressed.  Rooker came and 
shook me awake and said, " Come on and get dressed, the Band is going to play 
a Colors ceremony on the Hangar deck and we want you to join us." I said, " I 
can't do that." At that point the Petty Officer in charge of the Band came 
and said, " Come on, we'll get you a trombone, we want you to join us and 
then we'll have breakfast."  I managed to get dressed in the ongoing 
pandemonium and I found myself with a King 2B trombone, heading for the 
Hangar Deck.

The Hangar deck is where the planes are stored and refueled.  This day they 
were pushed aside and there are 3000 sailors lined up in formation.  Right in 
the middle is a Marine Company with a nasty looking Captain standing out in 
front of them.  I am starting to feel uneasy as here I am in my Marine 
uniform with this Navy band.  The Marines are part of the Navy but there is 
no crossover except for outfits such as the medical corps.  I originally 
intended to go into the medical corps but I didn't know until I got in the 
Marines that they use Navy medical corps and you can't get into this from the 
Marine end.

All of a sudden I froze in my tracks.   There are huge signs hanging all over 
the Hangar deck that say, in large red letters, "Absolutely no heel clips, by 
penalty of Court Martial."  Of course…the Hangar deck is highly flammable and 
a heel clip could kick off a spark on the metallic deck.  I've got heel clips 
on, as per Marine Corps orders.  The Band is at one end and is going to walk 
in formation to their position on the other end.  I am now in a state of high 
panic as I realize that the band is not going to play while marching to the 
other end.  This would have disguised my situation.  I don't know what in 
hell to do and the band takes off…here we go…click click click.  The band is 
not playing and you can hear 'click, click, click' this all over  this Hangar 
deck.  Every eye in the formation is now on me…thinking collectively, "What 
the f…is this Marine doing in the ships band and with heel clips." I try to 
stoic it out as we approach the Marine Company and the Darth Vader captain.  
He gives me a look that makes me instantly aware that he is going to lock me 
up in the Brig as soon as this ceremony is over.  (I had to take a prisoner 
to the brig once at Camp Pendleton and that was not a pleasant experience)

I played as best I could under the circumstances and finally the Colors 
Ceremony was over. I grabbed Rooker and the band officer and said, " That 
captain is coming to lock my ass up, you guys talked me into this and now you 
must get me off of this ship ASAP.  They did and I was able sneak in a brief 
tour of the ship.  Sparks were flying as I made my way from the Valley Forge.

The U.S.S. Valley Forge was retired some years ago after many years of 
service.  There is a USS Valley Forge on line now but it is not a carrier.

My friend, Harley Rooker, went into radio work and became a well known and 
popular radio announcer in Iowa.

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