The last known pages of my father’s Army memoir manuscript.
The company party at the end of the basic cycle was a high point. We hired a party room in one of the restaurants in Columbus, and the beer flowed freely. It was a fitting climax to a day that had begun with a battalion graduation review, complete with band. Since I had been involved in music from the age of 5, and had become a passable French horn player, and since this was the first band music I had heard in over four months, it impressed me tremendously. After the graduation parade, we were told that the entire ASTP program had been dismantled, and that we were to continue training until the Army had decided what to do with us. “COMBAT” was the first thing that entered my mind, and the first thing I did was to contact the bandmaster and arrange for an audition.
My parents had shipped my horn to me from home, and I showed up at the appointed hour to meet and play for Mr. Goldstein, the Warrant Officer Bandleader of the 184th Army Ground Forces Band. My audition was simple, short and evidently adequate, as ordered transferring me to the Band were cut two weeks later, and I became an Army musician, much to my relief.
My first official duty with the 184th AGF Band was to turn out of bed at an ungodly hour, go to a rail siding on another part of Ft. Benning, and play marches while my buddies from basic got on the train bound for Camp Claiborne, LA to join the 85th Infantry Division. I later heard that the 85th was sent into combat, and I never heard from any of them again.
It was a strange experience, after years in a high school band of some 65 members. There were only 28 of us. The band had originally been a part of the 38th (Indiana National Guard) Division, and when regimental bands were dropped in favor of one division band, had been shipped to Ft. Benning to serve the ASTP program and the Officer’s Candidate School nearby. Most of its members were Indiana small town and farm boys, not noted much for excellent musicianship, but nevertheless a good bunch of people to be with. Mr. Goldstein was a New Yorker, and although not a band-oriented musician, was talented and easy to work under. We did question his manliness, however, until one day when he was feeling ill and had gone back to his quarters at noon to lie down a while. A senior officer, passing his room and seeing him stretched out, commented, “Running the band from your bed again today, eh, Mr. Goldstein?” The reply, terse and pointed, was “Go fuck yourself.” We didn’t question his ability to stick up for himself after that.
And that is where my father rolled the paper out of the typewriter.
Flat-footed, nearsighted, he would never have come ashore at Anzio or Normandy, probably not even marched in the rearmost rearguard of Patton’s Army; most likely would not have seen any more of the Pacific than could have been viewed from bases in Hawaii. He had his horn and he belonged in the band, where he stayed, with an interruption for college on the GI Bill, for the remainder of his twenty Army years.
I remember the stories about Colonel Braun, otherwise known as Commandant Braun, who had allegedly been rusticated from service in Europe because of abusive and brutal habits, in front of whom the troops had to pass in review every week. Someone — was it my father? On one side his people were Norwegian and German — wrote a cantrip that went “Was ist dem Farbe von Pferdenscheiss? Braun, Braun, Braun!” Passable German everybody-talk for “What’s the color of horse-shit? Brown, brown, brown!” It ran in triple time on an ascending scale from the tonic to the mediant and back down on the repeated “Braun” to the tonic. Someone in the tuba section would play it, no matter whether the band was doing Sousa or Alford, every time they passed directly in front of the reviewing stand.
I remember the tale of Butterbutt, the portly recruit who exceeded my father’s KP adventure one night by getting into such a condition that his buddies managed to convey him, buck naked, to the latrine just in time for him to blow out at both ends.
Sometime in the nineteen-sixties I found a cache in the attic containing some of his old wartime C-rations. The chocolate was dry and crumbling, the fats extruded onto its surface, but it was still intact. I ate it.
A few years after he wrote these memoirs, in nineteen seventy-six, I took exception to a course of action he had proposed — not the end, merely the means, an ethical dispute at most. Until the day he died — because I think that the person he was died on the day he had a massive stroke in his early eighties — he reportedly said of me merely “I have no daughter.” I know, it kind of puzzled me too.
After he had the stroke he asked his second wife, my dear friend the Serpent Woman, to hunt me up because he wanted to somehow make it up to me. Whatev’s. I got on the phone and said don’t worry about it.
He died five days after the man who had once been my husband, in 2007.
There is silence and immobility.