Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival

Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time sung by Gene Austin.

The lilacs finally came into bloom on one of the two new small bushes Kathy and I planted last year.  Elsewhere hereabouts there are spectacular displays on mature bushes.  I celebrated by posting a shot of a glorious row of bushes blooming along the railroad embankment in Woodstock a few years back as the cover on my Facebook page.  It’s something to gladden the heart and senses in these doleful days.  That got me to recall another of sentimental popular balladJeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time.

Lilacs in Woodstock are my Facebook cover today.
Lilac Time was a 1928 silent romantic war film starring Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper following up his role in Wings as yet another pilot, this time as a Yank flying for Britain in the Great War.  The film was produced by Moore’s husband John McCormick and distributed by First National Pictures. It was based on a 1917 Broadway play written by my distant cousin Jane Murfin and actress Jane Cowl, who adapted the story from a novel by Guy Fowler.

Lilac Time movie poster.
Lilac Time was released with a Vitaphone score and music effects, featuring the song Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time, but there was no spoken dialogue.  The song was written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Nathaniel Shilkret and sung by tenor Gene Austin whose record of it was a #1 hit that year.  Also scoring hits with it were  Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra in 1922 reaching #2, and for John McCormack—the Irish tenor not Moore’s husband in 1929 at #15.
Gene Austin was a singer and songwriter, former vaudevillian, and one of the first crooners. His recording of My Blue Heaven sold over five million copies and was then the largest selling record of all time.  His 1920’s compositions When My Sugar Walks Down the Street and The Lonesome Road became pop and jazz standards. He also wrote How Come You Do Me Like You Do and scored big hits with songs by others including Bye, Bye Blackbird, Ramona, and Yes Sir That’s My Baby.

Gene Austin, one of the first of the crooners, was one of the biggest recording stars of the 1920's.
When the Great Depression put a huge dent into the record business, Austin launched a successful movie career including a stint as one of the first singing cowboys, a natural for the Texan and friend and mentor of Jimmie Rodgers.  He appeared in several films, including Belle of the Nineties, Klondike Annie, Sadie McKee—all 1934 releases and My Little Chickadee in1940, at the request of his friend, Mae West.  He successfully toured through the 1940’s and into the ‘50’s before retiring in comfort to Palm Springs, California.  He died of lung cancer in 1971 at age 71.


Civil Air Patrol Birthday Sparks Murfin Cadet Memoir

The official seal of the re-chartered Civil Air Patrol in 1948.

On May 26, 1948 Congress passed a bill re-chartering and organizing the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) as a voluntary civilian auxiliary to the United State Air Force.  

The organization had its roots in ramp up for Civil Defense on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II.  New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was acting in his capacity as national Director of Civilian Defense when he signed an Administrative Order creating CAP on December 1, 1941.  The idea was to engage the large body of civilian general aviation pilots and planes in support of the war effort.  The pilots were mainly over-aged, disqualified for medical reasons, or exempt from military service on other grounds.  Most of their aircraft would have been grounded for the duration to conserve fuel if not enrolled for service.

A World War II recruiting poster for the Civil Air Patrol under the Office of Civilian Defense.

 Flying mostly single engine private planes, CAP pilots served the cause by acting as couriers and occasional transportation of individual personnel, flying border surveillance, and participating in search and rescue missions for the many military planes that went down in accidents over the U.S.  But its most memorable role came in anti-submarine patrol and warfare.  CAP costal patrol pilots flew 24 million miles, located 173 enemy submarines, attacked 57, hit 10 and sank two. Sixty-four members of the CAP, mostly pilots and observers, were killed on duty during the war.

A CAP plane making a bombing run in anti-submarine action.

 Despite the success of the program and the eagerness of war time volunteers to continue service, the Defense Department was reluctant to continue the program.  They worried about civilian pilots coming under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and liability for civilian losses. 

The renewed charter made CAP more explicitly civilian and forbade future use in combat roles.  Despite the civilian nature, it came under the authority of the Air Force and was led by a three star general.  Units were arranged in regional command, 52 Wings—one for each state, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia—and local Squadrons and Flights.  Members are organized on a military basis with rank and uniforms, but are un-paid, and must pay annual dues and provide their own uniforms, essentially identical to those worn by the USAF.

So, you may ask, why am I spending valuable blog time on such a relatively obscure organization?  Because during my last two years in Cheyenne, Wyoming the CAP was a big part of my life.  I was a Civil Air Patrol Cadet, and damn proud of it.

The image of me in any sort of militaryesque uniform will undoubtedly stun and confound many who know me.  But I grew up the son of a decorated World War II veteran.  The homes of almost every one of my friends prominently featured framed photos of dads, uncles, brothers, and occasional mothers in uniform.  I was consumed with old war movies on the afternoon TV movie matinee and plowed through my father’s large collection of paperback war novels and memoirs starting with Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back.  I had played war in the back yard and in the school yard as often as cowboys and Indians.  I yearned for glory.  I wanted to be a hero.  I wanted more than anything else to wear a uniform in my own framed portrait.

I was not a likely recruit.  In ninth grade I was pudgy, flabby, unathletic, a bookish kid with thick glasses and few friends.  I had quit the Boy Scouts barely making Tenderfoot.  But I wanted to belong to something other than the Dudes and Dames Square Dance Club.  I wanted to be in ROTC, but it was only offered at Cheyenne Central High and I was destined to go to East where they offered the opportunity to wear the blue jacket of the Future Farmers of America instead.  Sorry, but not interested.

Then I caught sight of a smart looking unit of CAP cadets in the Frontier Days Parade.  It was a natural.  Cheyenne, after all was an Air Force town, home to Frances E. Warren AFB, the first ICBM base in the country.

Later that summer I prevailed on my Dad to take me to Tuesday night Flight meeting.  That meant going on base. 

Dad drove through the long parade ground at Frances E. Warren Air Force Base, former Ft. Russell, a cavalry post, on my way to my first CAP meeting.
Warren had been an Army Cavalry post until World War II.  We drove down the long parade ground lined on each side by sturdy red brick buildings.  Deep in the base we took a left and after a bit arrived at a run down two story building that the Air Force had no better use for.  It doubled as Wyoming Wing Headquarters and home of the Cheyenne Squadron and Cadet Flight.  As unpromising as I was I was allowed to sign some papers, told where to buy a summer suntan uniform and patches, and to come back next week to be sworn in.

A CAP Wyoming Wing shoulder patch.

 At my first official meeting I was thrilled when during inspection the Senior Member in charge told me not to come back without shaving the downy fuzz from my cheeks.  Never felt so grown up. 

Meetings consisted of an inspection, a little close order drill, orders of the day, and classes to prepare us cadets to move up through the ranks as we passed a series of tests—basic flight theory, Air Force history and structure, aerospace technology, radio procedures, search and rescue procedures, “leadership” and such.  Occasionally a Chaplin would show up and exhort us to “remain pure,” whatever the hell that meant.

On weekends we sometimes had fatigue duty around the building or special assignments.  We were victims in a Civil Defense drill once, another time we tested a new fallout shelter in the State Highway Department building by staying in it all weekend while pretending the Ruskies had nuked town—an event locals expected at any minute.  We did training to provide ground support for search and rescue missions. 

The Wyoming Wing had one air plane--it's pilots flew their own air craft on many missions--a World War II Stinson L-5.  This one is shown in it Army Air Corps markings.
We were shown the Senior Squadron’s only plane—a flimsy looking Stinson L-5 observation plane from World War II, basically a military version of a Piper Cub.  Some of the Cadets got to go up in it.  I never did.   I did, however, take a ride with the rest of the flight in a Wyoming Air National Guard C-47, a military DC-3 with the cabin stripped down to haul cargo or passengers on uncomfortable jump seats and benches

The best part, of course was the uniforms.  You had sun tans—open collar with short sleeves for summer or long sleeves with a tie.  Class A’s were Air Force blue blouses and trousers worn with a blue overseas cap.  My Class A’s had an Eisenhower style short jacket.  Fatigues were olive drab worn with high top black boots and the kind of rigid kepi that went out of style with the U.S. forces when Fidel Castro wore them.  But there were plenty in the surplus stores where we cadets shopped for our uniforms.  I thought I looked sharp in all of the uniforms—except the fatigues.  No one in history has looked sharp in fatigues.

New Jersey CAP cadets shown in front of a C-47 transport in the 1950.s.  A few years later our uniforms were much the same except we wore Air Force blue overseas caps and sometimes wore open collar short sleeve sun tans as well.

 Despite my shortcomings, I advanced through the ranks.  Near the end of my second year I had made staff sergeant.  And then because all but one of our Cadet officers transferred out with their parents on active Air Force duty, I was made temporary second lieutenant and appointed Flight Adjutant.  I fairly burst with pride when I pinned the round pips of rank to the epaulets of a brand new full length Class A blouse.

The summer after my sophomore year, I was sent to a weeklong Encampment at Lowry AFB in Denver for advanced training with Cadets from several western Wings.  My CO did not want to send down a contingent without a more senior officer, so I was made a temporary captain—two pips on the summer collar.

For a week, we lived the life of Basic Airman recruits.  Housed in barracks we were roused at 5 A.M. to shower, make our beds and report to P.T. following which we marched to mess.  There were classes morning and afternoon plus fatigue duty around the barracks and grounds.  We were taken to a jet fighter flight line and allowed to sit in a flight simulator.  But the highpoint—which had been built up to us all week a test of our endurance—was being put in a pressure chamber and then exposed to the equivalent of sudden loss of cabin pressure at 50,000 feet.  As predicted several of us got sick.  My ears popped painfully and I didn’t get back full hearing for days.  But I felt like a he-man.

During CAP summer encampment at Lowry AFB in Colorado we stayed in barracks like these and marched in formation to mess and classes.

At this point I was actually considering a career in the Air Force.  I knew my eyesight would prevent me from ever becoming a pilot and that my deficiencies in math and physics would preclude any of the many technical jobs in that most technical of all of the services.  I decided I might become a public information officer.  I spent some Saturday mornings at the Base Public Information Office.  I even typed up some short articles on CAP activities for the Base newspaper and sent my first press releases to the local newspapers.

Not long after returning from Denver, I was given yet another un-earned temporary promotion to Cadet Major and was designated as Cadet Wing Adjutant for the coming year.  But before I could even buy the three pip insignia, my dreams of glory were dashed.  My father announced that we were moving to ChicagoSkokie actually.

Although I had planned to transfer to the Illinois Wing, I would have had to revert to my real rank—staff sergeant.  Somehow I never got around to it.  Skokie offered new opportunities for a bookish kid.  Within a year I was marching against the Vietnam War and beginning to think about resisting the Draft when I turned 18.

But somewhere there is a photo taken by our neighbor Bill Miranda.  I’m fully decked out in my Class A’s.  It was taken in my staff sergeant stripes instead of officer pips.  But I smiled at the camera from behind thick horn rim glasses.  Just like those pictures of my Dad’s generation.  Only I had a giant zit on my chin.  Oh, well.

Monday, May 25, 2020

When Johnny Comes Marching Home and Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival 2020

When Johnny Comes Marching Home by Mich Miller's Chorus.

Today we are going back to the origins of Decoration/Memorial Day and making it our first two-fer!  When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again is one of the best known of all Civil War Songs but the song of anticipated triumph was something of a white wash on an earlier and far grimmer Irish song.

The original sheet music acknowleged Patrick Gilmore's band but credited his alias Louis Lambert as the writer.
The lyrics to When Johnny Comes Marching Home were written by the Irish-American bandleader Patrick Gilmore while he was serving as band master to the 24th Massachusetts Infantry in 1863.  The sheet music was published that year by Henry Tolman & Co. crediting words and music credited to Louis Lambert.  Although Gilmore was already a famed bandleader before the war he thought that the French sounding pseudonym might seem more romantic and sophisticated.  After the song’s initial wild success he was proud to proclaim authorship.
But he didn’t claim to write the music.  In 1883 he described the melody as:
…a musical waif which I happened to hear somebody humming in the early days of the rebellion, and taking a fancy to it, wrote it down, dressed it up, gave it a name, and rhymed it into usefulness for a special purpose suited to the times.
The tune Gilmore adapted was the Civil War drinking song Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.  The melody was even older than that, stretching back to the Seventeenth Century ballad The Three Ravens. 

Patrick Gilmore and his band in the 1870's.
After the war Gilmore was asked to organize a musical victory celebration in New Orleans. That success emboldened him to undertake two major music festivals in Boston, the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in 1872. These featured monster orchestras of massed bands with the finest singers and instrumentalists including the only American appearance by the Waltz King Johann Strauss II.  They cemented Gilmore’s reputation as the leading musical figure of the age.  Coliseums were erected for the occasions, holding 60- and 120,000 persons.  Grateful Bostonians presented Gilmore with medals and cash, but in 1873 he moved to New York City where he built Gilmore’s Concert Garden, which became the first Madison Square Garden.  Then he took his band on acclaimed tours of Europe.
He was during his lifetime bigger than John Phillip Souza and lived long enough to make early Edison cylinder records.
Gilmore was back in America preparing an 1892 musical celebration of the quadricentennial of Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery, when he collapsed and died in St. Louis at age 64.
But Gilmore never acknowledged the influence another song—Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye.  As an Irishmen from the Auld Sod, he must have known that one.
The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.
Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye was written in the voice of a young lass made pregnant by a lad who ran away to be a soldier.  She sees him on his return from serving in a foreign war in a British Red Coat in the late 18th or early 19th Century.  It was a powerful anti-recruiting song especially popular with the Fenians.  Although presumed to be older it was not published in London until 1867 and was credited to Joseph B. Geoghegan, a prolific songwriter and successful music hall performer.  It was set to the same melody as When Johnny Comes Marching Home because that was already a familiar tune on both sides of the Atlantic.  Most musical scholars believe it had an older folk origin, but some believe it was penned by Geohegan as a rebuke to triumphant bravado of Gilmore’s song.

Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye sung by the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.
Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye was re-popularized when The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem recorded it in 1961.  During the Vietnam conflict it became an anti-war and anti-draft anthem.

Decoration Day or Memorial Day—The Solemn Tradition Continues

An early 20th Century Decoration Day post card.

Today is, of course, Memorial Day in the United States.  The Uniform Holiday Act, passed in 1968, set 1971 as the year the Federal government would begin observing the holiday on the last Monday of May giving Americans a three day holiday weekend to start the summer season, to be balanced by a three day Labor Day weekend in September.  Of course this year that three day weekend seems swamped by long Coronavirus isolation.
Veteran’s organizations were nearly unanimous in opposition to the move fearing that it would dilute the observance as families planned fun activities instead of solemnly commemorating the war dead.  Several states refused at first to change their observances in conformity with the Federal law creating two Memorial Day holidays.   That proved unworkable and eventually all fell in line. 
Of course the veterans groups were right.  Attendance at their parades and cemetery services dropped off in favor of barbecues or a day at the beach
The origins of the solemn rituals go back to the end of the Civil War.  Almost as soon as the firing stopped communities were gathering to honor their dead, which in the sentimental 19th Century naturally meant trekking out to local cemeteries to festoon the graves with flowers.  Some credit the first organized commemoration to Confederate widows
Former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina form up for the dedication of the cemetery they built for the graves of Union prisoners of war on May 1, 1865.  Some consider this the first Memorial Day.
Others say that former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina originated it when they reburied Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prisoner of war camp there and dedicated the cemetery they created as a Union graveyard.  A local newspaper reported that up to 10,000 people, mostly former slaves, were present for a dedication of the cemetery on May 1, 1865 marking the occasion with singing and prayers

This dramatic and impressive equestrian monument to General John A. Logan, Civil War hero and first Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, sits atop a prominent mound in Grant Park in down town Chicago.  Ironically it became a rallying point for anti-war demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the scene of a bloody police charge.
Some kind of local observances sprang up in towns and cities both north and south.  Waterloo, New York lays claim to the first Decoration Day, as it became known with an observance on May 5, 1865.  It was surely just one of many.  But the friendship of the local leader of the celebration, General John Murray with General John A. Logan, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) planted the idea of creating a national observance.  On May 5, 1868 Logan issued G.A.R. General Order No. 11 instructing local posts to participate: 
        i.       The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
           We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
            If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.
            Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.
  1. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith…
To this day, Logan’s order is often read at Memorial Day observances conducted by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other veterans’ organizations.
Decoration Day was soon observed across the North, and at Union cemeteries in the South.  For many years it was confined to the Yankee dead and was thus boycotted by Southern states, most of which designated their own separate memorial days for the Confederate dead.  It was not until after the Spanish American War in 1898 in which Southerners served in arms under the Stars and Stripes once again, that the notion began to spread of honoring all of the war dead—although this was fought tooth and nail by the GAR.  The South began to share the May 30th date, but tended to call their observances Memorial Days to differentiate them from the GAR’s Decoration Days. 

A Confederate Memorial Day ceremony at the Woodington Universalist Church in Lenoir County, North Carolina 1920.
After World War I it became common to include the dead of that war—and later all wars—in the commemorations and the use of the term Memorial Day became more common even in the North.  But it was not until 1967 the Congress officially changed the name. 
In 1915 Moina Michael of Georgia, inspired by the poem  In Flanders Fields by John McCrae conceived of the idea of making and selling paper flowers for the support of maimed soldiers.  When the U.S. entered the war in 1917 she began selling her poppies on Decoration Day to honor the dead of all wars.  She later donated proceeds to French and Belgian war orphans.  The poppy tradition spread to other Allied countries.  After the relief organizations she had been donating to disbanded after the War, Michel approached the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who adopted Memorial Day poppy sales in 1922.  Two years later they inaugurated their annual Buddy Poppy sales.  Soon no respectable American would be seen on the streets on Memorial Day without a Poppy. 

Comemorated on a U.S. Postage stamp, Moina Mitchell was inspired by the popular poem In Flanders Fields to make and sell paper poppies to raise funds for the relief of Belgian and French refugees and war orphans in the Great War.  After the war she approached the Veterans of Foreign Wars who began selling their Buddy Poppies in 1922.
It became a tradition to decorate soldier’s graves by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and veteran’s organizations who placed small flags on the graves of veterans, not only at National Cemeteries, but in local graveyards as well.  But like the parades and cemetery programs in which General Logan’s Order is read, prayers are uttered, politicians orate, high school bands play patriotic music with sometimes straggling lines of elderly veterans rattling off vollies of rifle fire in the salute to the flag, that is in abeyance most places this year.

A Boy Scout planted flags on soldiers' graves at a National Cemetery.
This year President Donald Trump will tear himself from the golf course for annual wreath laying ceremony at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.  Along with First Lady Melania Trump he also will travel to Baltimore to visit Ft. McHenry which survived British Bombardment during the War of 1812 inspiring the Star-Spangled Banner. 
The visit will come in spite of a plea for Trump to rethink his visit from Baltimore Mayor Bernard Jack Young, who said it will send the wrong message at a time when he is asking the city’s residents not to travel. Baltimore, like other major cities with large, dense impoverished neighborhoods is of particular concern for public health officials worried about the spread of coronavirus.

A golfing Trump superimposed over the Sunday New York Times front page filled with the names of Coronavirus victims.
Reckless disregard of basic health concerns for a photo op is standard operating procedure for the Cheeto-in-Charge.