Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pepper Adams in the U.S. Army

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.



While reconstructing the contours of Pepper Adams' life, I've found that researching his time in the U.S. Army has been one of my biggest challenges. When I interviewed him at length in 1984 he didn't want to discuss his war experiences at all. They were simply too painful for him to retell. The fact that Army records from the 1950s burned in a fire a number of years ago hasn't made things any easier. Pepper did tell me that he enlisted to get preferential treatment, knowing that he was about to get drafted. But other than a few interviews I've done with Marv Holladay and Norb Grey, and a few documents I've found in Pepper's materials, I really don't know too much about that time.

The framework of Pepper's Army experience, as I've pieced together at pepperadams.com and updated from my previous post of 24 May 2014 is as follows:
1951
July 12: Detroit: Adams enlists in the U.S. Army. He was hoping to fail the induction physical and be found unfit for service.

cJuly 15: Waynesville MO: Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood.
cSept 1: Waynesville MO: Five months with the 6th Armored Division Band at Ft. Leonard Wood. Bill Evans and Tommy Flanagan were both at the post in other units.
1952 
Feb: Waynesville MO: Adams organizes a Special Services band at Ft. Leonard Wood for future performances in Korea.
Spring: Waynesville MO: A
s a ruse engineered by Charlie Parker (posing as Adams' mother's doctor), Adams receives an emergency furlough from Ft. Leonard Wood so that Adams could visit Parker in Kansas City. When Adams arrives at the club and learns that Parker is missing from his gig, Adams sees a movie, stays at the Y, then returns to the base the following day.
July: Ann Arbor MI: Hugh Jackson private recording with Bu Bu Turner, et al. Adams likely on 'Terminal Leave.'July-Aug: Pontiac MI: While on "Terminal Leave," Adams goes to Thad Jones' parent's house for a jam session, soon after meeting Thad for the first time. Adams and Jones spend some additional time together during the last days of Adams' leave.
cOct 10: San Francisco: Adams is shipped off to Korea, possibly on the USS General Walker,
a ship that transported 5,000 troops plus materiel to the staging area of Camp Drake.
cOct 29: Asaka, Japan: Adams is stationed at Camp Drake, awaiting re-assignment in Korea.

bearly Nov: Inchon, Korea: Adams arrives in Korea.
cNov 15: Korea: Adams first performance in the Eighth Army's 10th Special Services band.

1953
Apr 5: near Kunsan, Korea: Tommy Flanagan trio, plus altoist Jerry Lehmeier, recorded on Easter, presumably at Base K-8. Adams was in the audience.
Apr 12: near Kunsan, Korea: Tommy Flanagan trio, plus altoist Jerry Lehmeier, recorded at Base K-8. Adams was in the audience.
May 17: Pusan, Korea: Adams boards the Marine Phoenix troopship for his return home.
cMay 23: Pacific Ocean: Adams performs on alto sax for returning troops in a quintet with Marv Holladay.
cJune 2: Seattle: Arrives at Ft. Lott.
June 5: Detroit: Receives honorable release from active duty.
June 6: Ft. Custer MI: Files discharge papers and is transferred to the U.S. Army Reserve.
With this scanty chronology as a backdrop, imagine my excitement when I learned of a memoir written by someone who was in the Army with Pepper. Al Gould's slender memoir, Boots on the Ground with Music in My Hands, (Gilbert AZ: Acadia Publishing, 2011) definitely helps me understand that time. The author provides very useful background information, such as the history and purpose of the 10th Special Services Company. He also includes some fascinating vignettes that give a taste of Adams' military experience. 

The 10th, established in Honolulu in 1944, was first stationed in Guam, then Japan and Korea. Essentially a kind of Bob Hope USO touring troupe without the pretty girls, musicially speaking it was far more accomplished. According to Gould,

     It was the only Special Services Company in the whole armed forces made up of professional 
     entertainers, most of them drafted, who automatically would be sent to this company after receiving 
     basic training. These men were the top musicians from the major dance and swing bands of the 
     day such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton and others. The 10th Special Services 
     Company also included celebrity vocalists, comedians, magicians and other entertainers. 

According to the author, members of the 10th "gave up their musical professional lives in order to bring uplifting entertainment to all UN forces during the Korean Conflict." The Army's entertainment units were organized by Margaret "Skippy" Lynn. Lynn, a professional dancer, had the job since 1945, right after the conclusion of World War II.

According to Gould, USO tours in Korea by civilians were difficult--presumably due to the rugged terrain, weather, war conditions, or other factors, though Gould doesn't say--hence the need for the 10th: 

     Live entertainment was eagerly sought by the troops as an essential morale booster. Thus, the       
     touring all-soldier shows were conceived. Self contained units became capable of performing under 
     the most diverse circumstances while maintaining top professional stage presence and strict military 
     conduct. . . . Each platoon produced a theatrical musical program, which would tour and play for all 
     UN and MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] military personnel in South Korea, sometimes under 
     artillery fire.

As the book's Amazon.com blurb states, the author "spent nearly a year of his three year tour of duty as an accordionist in the 2nd Platoon of the 10th Special Services Company . . . . His unit broke all previous records, zig-zagging over 7,000 miles across South Korea and playing over 250 shows for military personnel and other UN troops." Pepper, for his part, was in the 10th Special Services Band in Korea for only six months--from c. 15 November 1952 through his return home on the Marine Phoenix troopship in late May 1953. To what degree did Gould's unit intersect with Pepper's? Until I interview Gould, that will be hard to know. Gould joined the 10th in January 1953, two months after Pepper. 

There were three separate 10th platoons (subdivisions of the Eighth United States Army) traveling "the road" in Korea. Gould's 2nd platoon consisted of 33 men yet all three platoons had an accordian player. I don't know yet which platoon Pepper was in but Gould's master roster of all 10th platoon members lists 102 soldiers, including Adams, alto saxophonist/bassist Jerry Lehmeier and baritone saxophonist Marv Holladay. 

Gould's first performances were in January 1953. He describes it in rich detail:

     This was January, and it was bone rattling cold. Our shows were played out of doors--anywhere we 
     could set up a stage, generators, sound equipment, musical instruments, including an upright 
     piano, and props off our truck. We carried our own 12-man tents for catching a quick night's sleep, 
     so at each stop it was physically unpacking, setting up tents and all our equipment, playing at least 
     two shows a day, often moving to a second location in between. The cold weather often brought 
     lips frozen to the horn mouthpieces, and fingers so stiff it was almost impossible to play the keys. . .

As of Christmas 1952 no one in the history of the 10th Special Services had been killed in combat. Gould recounts an amusing anecdote in which someone from the 3rd Platoon risked his life amid snipper fire to chop down a small Christmas Tree so he could affix it to his troop's truck. Members of his company adorned it with makeshift ornaments and it was a huge morale booster.

The author points out that soon after his arrival in Korea bands were reducing their size and transferring some of the musicians to different outfits, some with infantry. This, says Gould, "resulted in us moving more often, and we were dead tired, being booked for two shows a day for ten days straight." Again, how this might've affected Pepper is not known.

In February 1953 Gould's platoon was accused by a commanding officer of missing inspection. The 2nd 10th had arrived at the 25th Division Headquarters very early in the morning. While on the road, they had permission to sleep until 10:30am, unlike most soldiers, but the Division's officer was unaware of this. When the commander burst into the platoon's tent and demanded an explanation for why they weren't with the other troops at inspection, a member of Gould's platoon responded, "We are Special Service, Sir--and will you please turn up the stove on your way out?" Normally, such snarkiness would be grounds for court martial, but Special Service outfits were elite groups with "passes" signed by General Taylor that they be granted preferential treatment.

General Maxwell Taylor had assumed direction of the Eighth U.S. Army when General Matthew Ridgway replaced General Dwight Eisenhower as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in May 1952. According to Pepper's friend Len Dobbin, Taylor is someone for whom Pepper had enormous respect.

Another amusing Gould anecdote describes the enemy enjoying the 2nd 10th's show. After the conclusion of one of their performances near the MLR (Main Line of Resistance), a few dud mortars were lobbed over with notes affixed, written in English saying, "We enjoyed the show too."

By April 1953 there were rumors that the 10th was going to be disbanded. Changes were certainly afoot. The war was winding down, perhaps part of why Pepper was sent home a few months later? Soon the 10th would be waking up at 6am and would be reassigned to one of three Army Corps units that would be doing mundane tasks, such as overseeing movies, libraries and sporting equipment. It's a good thing Pepper left for home!