[Dixielandjazz] 'Sittin' on the Valley Forge

Russ Guarino russg at redshift.com
Mon Mar 31 15:34:00 PST 2003

Great Story.  Current generations miss these experiences by being too
cautious with their life plans.

Russ Guarino

JimDBB at aol.com wrote:

> '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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