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Guest Commentaries


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Veteran USAF musician Fred Robinson writes about his series of books, blog & website ‘The Back of the Bus – The Life and Times of Military Musicians’.

TBOTB (The Back of the Bus) was originally a Blog where former and current GI Bandsmen could gather to swap "war" stories about their time on the road, in rehearsals, performances, etc. A little over two years and nearly 200,000 words later there was a series of three books.

Stories range from the depiction of an Airman fresh out of basic training as he reports for his first day of duty to the recounting of that same individuals final performance, nearly thirty years later. There are humorous tales; such as the story of someone mooning the Base Commander from the back of a Bluebird bus, to serious subjects such as an account of a bus accident where there was a fatality. There are insightful stories; like the one about passing through Checkpoint Charlie on Christmas Eve, and whimsical stories such as the one about the band commander that steamed his pants while wearing them.
If you are or ever have been a military musician, or even a civilian road musician, I can guarantee you will love the TBOTB books. If not, I can at least promise you a good read.
Here is an all-in-one link to all things TBOTB: www.soltechs.net/TBOTB
The Back of the Bus Home
The life and times of military musicians. A LOVE story by Fred J. Robinson


Veteran US Army guitar player & publisher of this website John Moody found this interesting article about the Good Conduct Medal::

Authorized on June 28, 1941 for exemplary conduct, efficiency and fidelity and awarded to Army personnel who, on or after August 27, 1940, had honorably completed three years of active Federal military service. These military medals could also be awarded for one year of service after December 7, 1941 while the U.S. was at war.
The award was not automatic and required certification by a commanding officer (usually a battalion commander or higher). The Army Good Conduct Medal was designed by Joseph Kiselewski with an eagle perched on a roman sword atop a closed book. Around the outside are the words, “EFFICIENCY, HONOR, FIDELITY.” The reverse of the medal has a five pointed star just above center with a blank scroll for engraving the soldier’s name. Above the star are the words, “FOR GOOD” and below the scroll is the word, “CONDUCT.” A wreath of half laurel leaves, denoting accomplishment and half oak leaves, denoting bravery surrounds the reverse design.
The ribbon was designed by Arthur E. DuBois, the legendary Director of the Army Institute of Heraldry, and is scarlet with three narrow white stripes on each side. The ribbon is divided by the white stripes so as to form thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies of the United States. During the Revolutionary War, the color scarlet symbolized the mother country and the white stripe symbolized the virgin land separated by force from the mother country.
Unlike other additional award devices, e.g., oak leaf clusters, bronze, silver, or gold clasps with knots (or loops) are used to indicate the total number of awards of the Army Good Conduct Medal. For instance, two awards of the medal are indicated by two bronze knots, three by three, etc. Six total awards are indicated by one silver knot, seven by two silver knots, etc. Eleven total awards are indicated by one gold knot, twelve by two gold knots, etc. While all regulations since World War II only authorize a clasp to be worn after the second award or higher; it is not unusual to see veterans with a clasp having a single bronze knot on their AGCM or ribbon; this may have indicated either a single or second award and seems to have been an accepted practice.
Although the AGCM was officially instituted by executive order in 1941, it really goes back to the American Revolution. When General George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit in 1782 he also created an award called the Honorary Badge of Distinction. This was the first good conduct award since it was to be conferred on veteran non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the Army who served more than three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct. General Washington directed that the good conduct badge be made of cloth and each soldier who received it sew a narrow piece of white cloth on the left arm of his uniform jacket. Soldiers with more than six years service were to be distinguished by two pieces of cloth set parallel to each other. General Washington went on to express that this good conduct badge was a high honor and those who received it should be treated with particular confidence and consideration. However, just as the Badge of Military Merit disappeared after the Revolution so did the Honorary Badge of Distinction.
When President Roosevelt signed executive order 9323 on March 31, 1943 he officially changed the policy that the Army Good Conduct Medal could be awarded after one year. It should be understood, however, that additional awards of the Good Conduct Medal cannot be given for each additional year of service in World War II but required completion of a subsequent additional three-year period.
During the Korean War, President Eisenhower approved a first award only which could be presented for service after June 27, 1950 with less than three years, but more than one year service.
The Air Force ceased using the Army Good Conduct Medal June, 1 1963. Qualifying airmen were then awarded the Air Force Good Conduct Medal which differed from the AGCM only in design of the ribbon. The medal remained the same. Personnel who earned the AGCM before earning the Air Force Good Conduct Medal can wear both with the Air Force Good Conduct Medal coming first.
There is often some discussion if the Army Good Conduct Medal is a decoration or service medal. Historically, going back to World War II, the Good Conduct Medal was considered a decoration and was one of a few medals to be manufactured throughout the war when service medal production was restricted due to the need to divert metal to the arms industry. Today however, it is considered a service award.
There was no certificate to denote the award of the Army Good Conduct Medal until 1981 when the Army began issuing an 8″ x 10″ paper certificate. The army regulations covering the issue of the paper certificate prohibited the issue of the certificate of those awarded the Good Conduct Medal prior to January 1 1981.
The Army has changed policy on official engraving of a Good Conduct Medal several times during its history. Currently the Army authorizes engraving at the government’s expense by the U.S. Army Support Activity in Philadelphia, PA.
The Good Conduct Medal is especially interesting in that it is the last United States Army award established prior to World War II. It was also the last medal that the War Department attempted to issue with a serial number (a practice dropped in WW II). It is the only United States Army medal awarded which specifically excludes officers from eligibility and is only authorized for enlisted personnel.
John Moody
US Army Guitar Player
8th ID Band Germany & Recipient of the Good Conduct Medal


Veteran US Marine Corps musician, Quico Segarra posted this comment about his time in Viet Nam:

Riding along a dirt road on a two truck convoy towards the northern boundaries of the DaNang District in Vietnam after being picked up from Hill 368 from doing an all night perimeter duty on a machine gun bunker facing Happy Valley.
Just before stopping at a small iron bridge over a river leading to — we were greeted by a squad of Marines living behind a basketball sized compound with three bunkers behind barbed wire.
We dismounted and climbed aboard several Amtracks with our band instruments fully armed in preparation for combat. Holding onto to our instruments/rifles/extra ammunition/helmets etc we mellowed up a winding river towards Iron Bridge Ridge and Elephant Valley while exuberantly alert watching the jungle and hills that grew right out of the river bank.
We embanked upon a little village where a platoon of infantry Marines came to greet us with, “What the f— is [a] band doing here?” “You guys crazy?” and, “Oh Man! The Marine Band!”.
We set up and started playing “Gigi”/”West Side Story”/”El Capitan” and then when we were playing, “Semper Fidelis” shooting erupted with rounds snapping all around us. Nobody stopped playing until the Band conductor stopped us. By then the infantry Marines were in a full frontal assault on a group of huts leading into the jungle.
The Band conductor called us to attention and called out, “The Marines Hymn!”.
As the infantry charged without helmets nor flack jackets/shot up the huts we blasted our “Marine Corps Hymn!” Oh Boy! It was right out of the movies!
You should have been there!
Quico Segarra
USMC Bandsman
Viet Nam Veteran


Veteran US Army trombonist Col. Tom McCloskey wrote a guest commentary about PTSD . After leaving the Army Band
field, Tom went to Special Operations, spending time in Combat Zones.
Tom was a PFC trombone player in Germany when I first met him during my assignment with the 8th ID Band in Bad Kreuznach.
Tom left the service to attend and graduate Berklee College Of Music, then re-entered the Army and OCS. Tom is now a LTC with Civil Affairs – Special Operations US Army.
My good friend for almost 40 years now, Tom, an Army Bandsman forever, writes:

My whole perspective on life changed after getting into Special Operations.

Sure, having a chest full of medals may seem impressive to some but to me it is a reminder of the suffering and sacrifice many made with their lives.
Not only Americans but many from partner nations who stood with us and fought hard to protect their country.
I remember sending home personal items to families of soldiers killed, receiving a letter from a wife telling me how much she missed her husband and her difficulty with the grieving process.
Going to ceremonies of those killed and watching grown men weep, flying on helicopters with body bags-good men, lifeless on their journey home to their families. Attending burial ceremonies listening to the weeping women and family members – observing kids crying, trying to process the event and why their Dad is in a box.
In Colombia witnessing the aftermath of a combat operation with the FARC, witnessing civilians shocked after a drug cartel murder.
These are all examples of where the US Military operates and [what] those in it experience.
Can you say PTSD?
Tom McCLoskey, LTC
Civil Affairs – Special Operations US Army


Veteran USAF bandsman David Metzger wrote in a guest commentary about his participation in ‘Operation Continuing Promise’ in Haiti:

I was in an Air Force rock band stationed aboard the USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) for the four month long Operation Continuing Promise 09 humanitarian medical mission. After our first trip ashore in Haiti it was decided that security was too risky for all but five members of the group to go ashore for the duration of our mission there.
One of the AF junior NCOs told us that his bunk mate, a Navy junior NCO, was in charge of moving all of the donated food and supplies to the staging area for the helicopters to take ashore. It was far too much work for one person so about eight of us went to help. What we found was a sea of hundreds of pallets of food, clothing and medical supplies that needed to be moved, one at a time, from one end of the ship to the other by pallet jack then lowered to the helicopter deck by forklift and staged for helo lift to Haiti. There was so much time standing around between helo sorties that after lunch only a few of us came back.

By the time the sun had set there were only two of us left and we were keeping up perfectly with the sorties when my band friend called me over to look at what he had found. On the boxes of food were messages of well wishes written by the children that donated the food to the children of Haiti. One message read, “Dear kids, Hope this food will keep you non starving!” Both of us, 49 year old Master Sergeants, just stood there and cried. We couldn’t even talk. We just kept working, in the dark, staging pallets long after flight operations ceased, until there was no more room to stage any more pallets for the next day’s sorties.

I went back at 5am and worked until I had to report for muster. I continued to go back, only stopping for meals and other duty requirements a few times a day. My friend came back whenever he could but he was the lead guitar player and selected as one of the five that went ashore. When the last pallet was airlifted off the ship to Haiti the Navy NCO told me that we were only going to be allowed to fly in donated cargo for four days before the helos would have to start flying US medical equipment back to the ship so we could set sail for the next country. Any donations that were still on board after four days would not go to Haiti but to another country later in the mission. We did it in three days. In fact, more donated supplies were off-loaded in Haiti than were originally planned. No other country was shorted, though, as the ship was restocked by a cargo ship during transit.

My part in the Haiti airlift and the rest of the mission was small in comparison to the amazing work done by the medical professionals, but I can’t help feel that out of all the things I’ve seen and done in my 26 year career this was, by far, my greatest contribution.

MSgt David Metzger
US Air Force, Ret.


The Navy Musicians Association website published an article about Lou Donaldson being honored as an NEA Jazz Master:

The National Endowment for the Arts has selected alto saxophonist and former Great Lakes Navy Bandsman Lou Donaldson as one of four 2013 NEA Jazz Masters. The award ceremony, which will also honor Mose Allison, Lorraine Gordon and Eddie Palmieri, will be broadcast on January 14, 2013.
Donaldson was a clarinetist in the Navy Band at Great Lakes at the end of World War II, along with 1991 Jazz Master honoree Clark Terry. He has been quoted as saying that after he heard Charlie Parker in a Chicago club, he “threw the clarinet in the water.”

When it comes to a jazzy soulful groove, it doesn’t get much groovier than Donaldson. His distinctive blues-drenched alto has been a bopping force in jazz for more than six decades. His early work with trumpeter Clifford Brown is considered one of the first forays into hard bop, and his first recordings with organist Jimmy Smith led to the groove-filled jazz of the 1960s and ’70s.

Donaldson began playing the clarinet at age nine, and by 15 was enrolled in North Carolina A&T College in Greensboro, where he would later receive a BS degree. He was drafted into the United States Navy in 1945 and became a member of the Great Lakes Navy Band — which gave Donaldson the opportunity to play with older musicians such as Clark Terry, Ernie Wilkins, and Luther Henderson — playing both clarinet and alto saxophone. Following his time in the Navy, Donaldson eventually moved to New York City in 1950 on the advice of Illinois Jacquet. He attended the Darrow Institute of Music on the GI Bill but played at the clubs in Harlem at night. Charlie Parker was initially an influence on Donaldson’s sound, as he was on just about every saxophonist who followed him, but the younger musician eventually developed his own style.

Alfred Lion, co-founder of Blue Note Records, heard Donaldson playing at Minton’s Playhouse and invited him to record for his label. First as a sideman with the Milt Jackson Quartet (later the Modern Jazz Quartet), Donaldson was instrumental in bringing Clifford Brown and Horace Silver to Blue Note, and made the recording with Art Blakey, A Night at Birdland, considered one of the first in the hard bop genre. Donaldson was also instrumental in getting many legendary musicians their debut sessions with Blue Note, including Grant Green, Blue Mitchell, John Patton, Ray Barretto, Curtis Fuller, and Donald Byrd.

During the 1950s, Donaldson spent much of his time as a bandleader touring with a band that featured organist John Patton. Donaldson began using the organ-saxophone format exclusively, which led to his recording on Jimmy Smith’s seminal recording of the late 1950s, The Sermon. He has gone on to employ a variety of other great organists through the years, including Lonnie Smith (along with George Benson on Donaldson’s acclaimed recording Alligator Boogaloo), Jack McDuff, Charles Earland, Leon Spencer, Pat Bianchi, and Akiko Tsuruga. The organ-sax groove sound — which Donaldson called “swinging bebop” — helped, for a time, make jazz as popular as it had been during the swing era.

Donaldson is the recipient of an honorary doctorate of letters from his alma mater — now called the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University — that also awards an annual scholarship in his name to the school’s most gifted jazz musician. He was also inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame in 1996, among other honors.

Navy Musicians Association

Posted with permission from Frank Mullen
Navy Musicians Association


Veteran Army musician Melinda Whitman wrote in a response to an inquiry I had concerning an assignment she had at ‘PERSCOM’:

In 1984, MSG Joe Bates, Enlisted Personnel Manager for Army Bands at MILPERCEN, wanted to return to serving in a band as an Enlisted Bandleader/First Sgt. He advertised the position vacancy and asked interested senior enlisted bandsmen to apply. I was one of those who applied.
I had been at the 2nd Armored Division Band at Fort Hood for 7 long years and needed a change. Somehow I was selected.

In replacing Joe Bates, I filled the only position for an enlisted band member from CMF 97 (Army Bands) to be assigned to HQ DA, to the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate (EPMD), Military Personnel Center (MILPERCEN), to manage accessions, assignments and schooling of Army Enlisted Band members.

This position was located in Hoffman One, 2461 Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, VA. I was assigned to the Adjutant General Branch, (although the position actually belonged to the Office of Chief of Staff, Army Bands Office), and worked in a cubicle in the AG Branch Office on the 5th floor.

This position accomplished the work done in EPMD, and also served as a representative and advisor for bands with the Chief, Army Bands Staff Office, EPMD and DCSPER at the Pentagon.

During my time in the position I coordinated with LTC Wayne Shipe, MAJ Jack Grogan and SGM John Cathcart, and later, SGM Lou Hurvitz, all of whom, at that time, worked in the Chief, Army Bands Office (they had an office on the 8th floor of Hoffman One), and with folks at the School of Music.

I was always on the phone speaking to enlisted band soldiers and band commanders worldwide about assignments and personnel needs, and with recruiters coordinating enlistments, assignments and schooling of their musician recruits.

The office of Chief, Army Bands was moved to Ft Benjamin Harrison, IN under COL Jon Kindred during my time in that job, but my position in AG Branch at EPMD (Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate), where assignments, accessions and schooling orders were originated, remained in Hoffman One.

And the acronym, MILPERCEN was changed, first to Total Army Personnel Agency (TAPA), and, quickly, changed again to Total Army Personnel Command (TAPC). I think unofficially we called it PERSCOM.

Yes, it was a one of a kind assignment. But there are other veterans who held the position before and after me. I took over for MSG Joe Bates. I don’t remember who had the job before him. After me, there was SFC Greg Caceres(sp?) and SFC Rickey Lumpkin (02F). I don’t know who took over after them, because I had retired, lost touch with the military and took a civilian job.

Melinda Whitman,
US Army Bands, Ret.


Veteran US Army musician Karen Syverson wrote in a response to Andre’s commentary ‘Beyonce And The WAC Band’:

During WWII there were five WAC Bands, the 400th through the 404th Army Service Forces Bands. As an aside, the 404th WAC Band was Colored. They were all deactivated after WWII, and in August 1948 the 400th ASF Band was reactivated and redesignated the 14th Army Band (WAC). We remained in existence until being integrated (with men) in 1976.
As a proud guitar player from the WAC Band I had the privilege of serving with the same ladies you did, as well as many, many more. Musically the WAC Band was considered on a par with the The Army Band and the Army Field Band. We also did major tours throughout the US, played all the major car races, did the gig at the Kentucky Derby, played the White House and the Pentagon, marched three Presidential Inaugural parades, and etc. All while we also supported Ft McClellan as the post band. Although we won’t play Candide again, our Band has a reunion every other year at Ft McClellan and we can still play.

I know our trumpets were playing Maynard Ferguson charts in the ’70′s, so women in all female rock bands that can cut the parts is not a new concept – it’s just that we were the best kept secret in the Army.

Thank you for thinking of us with your article. It’s not often a male bandsman even knows we existed and that makes your kind words about us that much more special.

Karen Syverson
SFC, USA retired