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Reminiscences of the Hondo AAF Band

My father reminisces about his service in World War 2.

The Hondo Air Force Band was formed in the summer and fall of 1942 by a cadre from the Randolph Field Band (Gulf Coast Air Corps Training Command Band - GCACTC Band). The Randolph Field Band had been part of an Engineers' regiment at Ft. Lewis, Wash., before being assigned to Randolph Field. Cadres were sent from the Randolph Field Band to most of the new air fields in the command. The cadre was composed of Tech. Sgt. Mahlon B. Salmond, a long-time member of army bands, Glen Wilson, and Arthur Wolfe. I had known all of them in the Randolph Field Band since I had enlisted there in Dec., 1941. I had left on a cadre earlier in 1942 to form the Brooks Field Band, then was selected to attend the Army Music School at Ft. Myer, Va. I graduated from this school in Nov., 1942, was appointed a Warrant Officer Band Leader, and assigned to the Hondo Band, where I reported in the same month. At the age of 22, I may have been the youngest band leader in the army!

By that time the band was already functioning with a full complement of men, and in addition some musicians were temporarily assigned to the band from the Medical Corps. No one seemed to know why this assignment had happened. The table of organization for army bands at that time called for 28 men. A World War I "retread" from Peoria, Ill., Capt., later Major Don L. Negley, the post adjutant, was commander of the band. This was standard practice. Later I became the commanding officer of the band. This resulted in one diagram of the base chain of command, in which the band was independent of the post commander, and Col. Dany and I were the only two commanding officers on the base! However, we made no attempt to assert our independence!

This change in command structure may have come about when the AAF bands were given numerical designations. The band had no numerical designation at first, but later became the 324th, later, the 624th Air Force Band.

I had graduated in music from the University of Michigan in 1941 and had started teaching music in the Corpus Christi, Texas schools. I had grown up in Austin, Texas, and many friends and fellow musicians had enlisted in the Randolph Field Band. After Pearl Harbor I joined them, on Dec. 29, 1941. At Hondo I was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer, the highest rank possible for a band leader at that time. In June, 1945, I was assigned to the band at Randolph Field. I was released from service at Randolph Field, having gone a full circle in my service assignments. I received my separation orders at a ceremony headed by Lt. Col. Causey, who had been executive officer at Hondo. By the time of my last review, Oct. 18, 1945, at Randolph Field, manpower had dwindled because of releases and discharges to the extent that both the Hondo and Randolph Field Bands had to be combined in order to provide an adequate musical entity.

Sgt. Salmond, who played baritone horn, was the first sergeant of the Band, later was promoted to Master Sergeant. Staff Sgt. Ed Cole, also a veteran army member, played French Horn and served as Drum Major of the Band. He was also chief clerk. Sgt. James Van Laningham, from Indiana, was also a clerk, and played first trombone in the band and piano in the dance band.

The men had been recruited from many places and included professional musicians, teachers, and some students. Sgt. Glen E. Wilson, a bass player with the Barney Rapp dance band, became the band librarian and bass drummer. He played for dances at the base; some people recall "big Bertha," the black Buick that he drove, carrying his stringed bass. Sgt. Arthur Wolfe, a graduate of Columbia University, became solo clarinetist and supply sergeant. Sgt. Nat White had been first flute of the Oklahoma City Symphony, and returned there after the war. Cpl. Jim Cockrell had led his own dance band in Mississippi under the name of Jimmy Davis. He became the leader of the "big band" that played for dances at the Service Club, NCO Club, Officers Club, and elsewhere. The daughter of a Sabinal judge, Evelyn Woodley, taught music in the Hondo schools, and sang frequently with the band. Lamar Shewell, first saxophone in the band had played and toured with the Blue Barron band, one of the "big" bands of the 1930's. A smaller band was also available for performance at smaller events. Several band members were from the Cincinnati area amd had played professionally there. Tony Picardi, from the Chicago area, played vibraphone and other percussion instruments.

Near the end of the war, some members of the Hondo band, Sidd Kramer, clarinetist, and Ed Locke, trumpeter, were assigned to the Dodge City, Kan., Air Force Band, which went to Europe as the band for the Ninth Air Force.

Normally the band rehearsed daily and provided the music for the daily Retreat ceremony at Post Headquarters. The ceremony included the sounding of "Retreat," the firing of the post cannon, and the lowering of the post flag to the accompaniment of the National Anthem. At the firing of the cannon, all traffic on the post halted, and everyone was supposed to get out of any vehicle, face the flag, and salute. On weekends, a trumpet player would perform "To The Colors" in lieu of the anthem. The various base organizations rotated in providing an Honor Guard. Music for graduation ceremonies held in the post theatre was provided by the band, as well as graduation and Sunday reviews of the cadet corps. Sunday cadet reviews were pretty regularly scheduled. I was never quite sure if the reviews were a training device or a means of getting the cadets "dried" out from their San Antonio weekends! It was common to see one or two cadets passing out during the reviews.

A series of concerts was performed for the post at the Service Club, and concerts were also performed at the Arneson River Theatre in San Antonio, in the summer, and during winter, in the Scottish Rite Temple in San Antonio. These concerts featured other service bands in the area as well, and were sponsored by the USO. We also performed a war bond concert at Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio. In addition, the band performed "mini" concerts on the base wherever a captive audience could be found--the maintenance hangar, the flight line, the hospital, various athletic events, war bond sales, etc.

The most significant portion of the band's duties was in providing the music for the post reviews at Hondo. These were not too frequent, perhaps no more than two or three per year. All personnel of the base participated in the reviews which were held on the west runway of the field, usually on a Saturday morning. I don't remember that any review was in honor of anyone significant, unless we had a general officer present once or twice. General officers required the performance of honors, "Ruffles and Flourishes" and the "Generals' March."

The band played at most baseball games, and on one occasion I think we averted what could have been a nasty fight or scene. I think the Hondo post team was playing the Kelly Field team. As I recall, Enos Slaughter, who had been in the St. Louis Cardinals "gas house gang" was playing for Kelly. After some kind of disputed play or argument, it seemed that both teams were going to go at it. I thought it didn't make sense for service teams to be fighting each other instead of the enemy. The band was already seated in the stands, so I called for the National Anthem. After we started, everyone, of course, came to attention and saluted. By the time we had finished, calmer tempers prevailed.

In addition to musical duties, members of the band were expected to carry on the normal activities of other soldiers. There were the usual training films, inspections, chemical warfare training occasionally, physical training, weapons training at the firing range, and orientation or "Information and Education." The purpose of the latter was to make certain men understood reasons for the war, study of the enemy forces and the allies, knowledge of the war's progress, and similar objectives. Each unit had an enlisted man designated as responsible for the program, and time was provided for the program. We had a large wall map of the European Theater, and when D-Day came, we were able to pin-point the landings. An officer name Webster was responsible for the program on the post for a while. He was a professorial type, very well educated and perhaps a faculty member at some college or university in civilian life. At the time many people were suspicious of the Soviet Union, even though they were our allies. Some thought war with them was inevitable at some time in the future. I remember Webster posing the proposition that perhaps both countries had become so powerful that a standoff would ensue. I have thought many times about that prophetic vision!

The battlefield duty of army bandsmen in World War I had been as litter or stretcher bearers for the wounded. Some mention of this duty may have been made, but I knew of no official statement of this duty during World War II. Band members were to be armed with carbines, and we fired them on the range, along with other arms. However, we did not have the carbines issued to us; they remained in the custody of the quartermaster or ordnance corps.

Officers were also expected to maintain physical fitness. Classes were scheduled in late afternoon on the athletic fields in the center of the base, between Bachelor Officers Quarters and the Cadet Barracks. Attendance was expected and sometimes checked. We usually started out with calisthenics and then eased into volley ball games. Some of these were vicious and caused serious injuries. Someone said that more man-hours were lost in volley ball injuries than in flying!

At some point, apparently the higher levels thought the base maintenance and service units were becoming too soft and flabby, and decided that a field exercise was in order. So one was scheduled for May 25, 1944 (verified date), with appropriate preliminary drills and lectures. This exercise included the band, whose members had had little if any basic training. (My own basic training as an enlisted recruit in early 1942 was for only a week or two.)

All units were to participate in an overnight bivouac with full field gear to simulate actual war conditions. We took no instruments, but fell in marching order, a long column, with field packs, one afternoon, at 13:30. We followed the paved road that went up to the swimming pool on the hill, then followed the north fence line of the base on the trail or jeep road that followed the perimeter of the base. At one point on the north line, Col. Cecil Childre, the director of training, flew in low, simulating strafing, and dropped paper bags with flour. We had to take cover, prickly pear or not. We were told this was a gas attack, so we had to put on gas masks, later removed at the all clear, but taking due care going through designated "contaminated" areas.

It was a sultry, typically hot Texas day as we moved along the road. We reached the west limit of the base and moved south to the bivouac site, on the other side of the arroyo or dry creek. After we reached the designated site, the men set about getting ready to pitch their shelter halves and getting their field rations ready. We were expected to post guards for the various units, I think, but the weather had grown steadily more threatening. Before much had been done to prepare the camp site, it was obvious we were in for a real storm. Finally the rain came, about dusk, and then began to come in torrents, so that the site soon became a muddy mess. I think water was running about 6" deep over our site. Orders came down that we were to pack up and evacuate, and we got ready to do so.

The return to our barracks area however was not via the round-about way that we came, but directly east, across the now flooding creek to the runway. It seems to me the water was at least waist-high. Some men carried their equipment in shelter halves but nevertheless lost equipment in the water. Needless to say, the language turned blue with swear words! By the time we reached the runway the storm had abated, and planes were flying again. We were held at the edge of the runway until we were "cleared" to cross, following the transient "Follow Me" jeep. We were told to return to our barracks area and continue the exercise with guards posted, but it seems to me not many units actually did so. I'm fairly sure that I went to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, washed up and dried out. I think that there might have been critiques the next day and a night hike or march the night after the deluge. And so the great overnight bivouac ended!

Cadets were encouraged to sing as they marched in formation to classes. Songs recalled include Roll Me Over in the Clover, I've Got Six Pence, and various air force songs. Taps played in various styles and in various keys around the cadets' barracks area was not easily forgotten.

VE Day was another occasion that comes to mind. The end of the war was expected, so it was possible to plan some events for the day. There were a number of meetings, it seems to me, and apparently the field was under some sort of directive from higher levels to close the base to keep men on the base until the initial excitement had some time to wear off. When the day arrived, all plans were in place. It seems to me we started out with all base personnel in a mass formation in the parking area in back of the post headquarters. We played appropriate marches as the units came together. I suppose we heard Pres. Truman on the radio or the post commander. The rest of the day was spent in celebrating on the base, baseball games and other activities. In little over a month, on June 14, I left Hondo and reported at Randolph Field, where I served for the rest of the war. Similar plans for VJ Day were made at Randolph, but because of the timing of the announcement, most personnel had left the field. Perhaps the men remembered VE Day and decided to get off the base before it closed down!

Feb. 29, 1992 - After fifty years, some recollections may not be completely accurate

More on Texas World War II Army Airfields from Wikipedia.

Owner/SourceHarold Mueller
Date29 Feb. 1992
Linked toDr. Harold MUELLER

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