I was a musician before I enlisted in the Navy. After I enlisted, I entered the Navy School of Music in Washington, DC and they organized band number 35, which was assigned to the NORTH CAROLINA. We picked up the ship in Noumea, New Caledonia. One of the first things we did when we got aboard ship, we had to be trained for our battle station. Our battle station was not playing ‘Anchors Aweigh.’ Every man on the ship had to be good at something that would enhance the ability of the ship to defend itself or to fight. We took classes. We went to fire school when we were in Pearl Harbor. They had fire school on Majuro that we attended. We had classes aboard ship. I’d taken college courses that were a lot easier.
Not all the ships had bands, just the big ones. When we would be at anchor in a port like Pearl Harbor, the band played a lot of outside engagements. We played at Marine Air Bases carved out of the jungle and at radio stations aboard small carriers. The sailors liked to hear real live Navy bands. We had a good one.
On board the ship, the band would select two or three men to play for church services every Sunday. Many times a small combo might play for evening dinner in the officers’ wardroom. We would play somewhere on the fantail before the night movies for the crew. We also played two or three funerals aboard ship. That is not a fun job.
We played what the guys wanted to hear. They didn’t want to hear marches. They wanted to hear a dance band. We had a very good dance band. Big Band.
Another thing, we played for physical drill. Every once in a while we would get some young officer that was going to shape these guys up. The Navy had a thing they called physical drill. You would go through your little stretches and bends. They figured the crew would do it better to music. By playing for the physical drill, we didn’t have to endure it ourselves, so that was all right.
We were playing on a marine air base…we were sitting on a rough wooden platform that they had hammered together for the band to sit on, for the guys to listen to the band before the movie. We were playing along and I looked down between my feet. There was a bug about four inches long and shiny black. He looked as big as the alligators in the Cape Fear River. I am sure he was completely harmless, but I almost swallowed my trombone.
Donald R. Wickham