© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.
Here's my 4 July 2014 interview with Al Gould, co-author of Boots on the Ground with Music in My Hands, Korea 1952-1953. Buy the book here:
Along with Pepper Adams, Gould was a member of the elite Second Platoon of the U.S. Army's 10th Special Services Company. At one point in the conversation co-author Jackie Gould answers a question.
GARY CARNER: First, thank you for this photograph. (See below). The picture of band, playing in Korea with that rugged backdrop: It really paints a perfect picture of exactly what you guys did. Right out of the truck, surrounded by sand bags, with a makeshift stage. It's an amazing document!
AL GOULD: That makeshift stage thing we did most of the time. We very rarely wore our special show uniforms. We were wearing our fatigues and so forth. We'd pitch in an open area someplace, or anywhere near where these different groups were. Where there was 50 men or more we'd put on a show. It could be the Turks, it could be the English, whatever. Actually, we did a lot of Americans. That's typical, the picture that you see.
C: Do you know where it was shot? What approximate date and location?
G: I wish I did.
C: The Bulldozer Bowl. (See photo below.) Do you know what that is?
G: We played there several times but the first time could've been in mid-January of '53. It looks like they've got on heavy wraps. That would've been probably early- to mid-January.
C: You've got a picture of the audience. That's a big audience! What show is that for?
G: That would be one that we played before Pepper left in May, 1953. The cease fire didn't happen until June.
C: All the shows that you played with your platoon, Platoon #2, Pepper was on, correct?
G: Yes, that's right. Now, he left for home before I did. We can get to that later but we were definitely together.
C: You guys were traveling, packing up, doing sometimes two shows a day, living in a tent when you could; a very intimate relationship with thirty guys, particularly the guys in the band. You must've had a chance to know Pepper very well.
G: I'm going to give a qualified "yes," but it's not too clear. I was talking to a lot of the guys all the time. He was fantastic, but I can't say we were bosom buddies, just us two together hanging out or whatever. I was with all of them.
C: Did he have particular friends, maybe Mack Saunders? Was he closest with a few of them?
G: Not really.
C: Tell me what Pepper was like? What were your impressions of him?
G: The impression was what a fantastic musician! You couldn't help but have that rub off at all times. Let me make one correction right now. You were referring to the Eighth Army Band. I don't think it should be referred to that way at all. There was an Eighth Army Band at Eighth Army Headquarters that had no connection with the Tenth Special Services Company. We usually referred to them by the platoons. We were the show band in the Second Platoon. There was a show band in three platoons. There were four platoons but the Headquarters Platoon, which was Platoon #4, didn't go do shows at all.
C: Yeah, they didn't tour. So you were the show band. What were the other two platoons doing?
G: They were doing identically the same thing, but we were on the road 24/7. We had passes signed by [General] Maxwell Taylor that got us through checkpoints any time of day, which was fantastic! One of the most important things which we haven't discussed was that the U.S.O. shows had civilians in them. They couldn't play closer that twenty miles from the front lines (MLR). Consequently, that's the reason the Tenth Special was so darn important because we could play within 500 yards. But the Bob Hope shows and so forth, which were fantastic, couldn't get any closer that twenty miles of the front line. They weren't trained to defend themselves.
C: The front line is not the same thing as the MLR is it?
G: I would say it's different nomenclature for the same thing: The Main Line of Resistance is the front line.
C: There wasn't a Demilitarized Zone, a DMZ that separated the two countries, like there was in Vietnam?
G: No, that came at the cease fire. I think it was for a mile in both directions.
C: Getting back to Pepper, do you remember anything at all about him, traveling with him, in the tent, any habits, any humorous anecdotes?
G: He was not a driver. Some of the members were drivers. He would probably be riding shotgun with one of the drivers. We had thirteen vehicles. We'd vary from maybe 28 to 33 men, depending on who was rotating home. The one vehicle that was the main one that we carried a lot of our uniforms and that kind of stuff kind looked like a metal-covered two-and-a-half-ton Army truck. We would always throw a tarp over it which said "R&R." R&R stood for the name of the show: Road to Ruin.
C: Who came up with that name?
G: It might've been Skippy Lynn. She was a "battle ax" but we have to respect her highly. She was fantastic! If you didn't cut the mustard, she'd take you right out of the platoon and you'd be in the infantry or something!
C: They didn't cut your band when Pepper was there?
G: No, not at all.
C: In this picture he's playing baritone. I assume it was his instrument from home?
G: It could've been his instrument.
C: My hunch is that he at least took his own instrument to Ft. Leonard Wood.
G: I'm positive he would've done that.
C: I'm wondering if he might've brought it home, left it there, then just got a horn in the military and used his own mouthpiece?
G: He could've had his own in Korea. There's a timeline that bothers me. You had said that he left for Korea on October 10th. I left for Korea on October 25th. There wasn't time for that ship to leave on the 10th, go to Korea, and get back for me to load on the 25th. He would've been on the ship ahead of me but it couldn't have been October 10th. He was on the USS Walker and so was I. It would have to be at least a week before the 10th. Pepper was probably earmarked to go to the Tenth Special but they weren't ready for him when he reached [Camp] Drake so he stayed there. Pepper would've played there from when he got there in early October until he left in November and would go to Incheon. He would've been playing pickup shows identically the same as I was. I was blessed that they needed an accordion player the first part of the year or I never would've made it. Pepper probably played at the Ernie Pyle Theater, same as I did. He probably played at the Rocker Four Club, which was called the "Showplace of Japan," for people who were there on R&R (relax and recuperation). [Both were in Tokyo.]
C: Was there access to cigarettes?
G: Yes, very definitely, and we'd stop along the road occasionally when they yelled, "Pot!" Pot was growing wild. Marijuana was growing all over the place. They'd run out and get whatever they wanted to get. I didn't smoke so I didn't do it. We had cigarette rations all the time.
C: You said you were the second person to enlist directly into the Army band in February of 1952.
G: Yeah, right, that was a brand new thing. As I took my infantry training on detached service, I never pulled guard duty or KP, because I didn't get on the roster and I sure never told anybody.
C: Pepper enlisted in 1951, in July, and he said that he was hoping to get into the band. So I guess at that point he wasn't sure.
G: The Sixth Armored Division Band; let's touch upon that at this time. There were three bands at Ft. Leonard Wood: the 6th Armored Division, the Headquarters was "326" (that I was in), and there was an all-black band also. I don't remember what number that was. You had actually written that, while at Ft. Leonard Wood, he made a little band that played later in Korea?
C: That can't be true?
G: That would be impossible, for the central reason that we were sent over individually, not as any unit at all. How would they know who would've ended up in Tenth Special? They wouldn't have known at that time.
C: It was up to Skippy Lynn to actually put them into groups and organize them, correct?
G: Yes, right. A lot of the guys were from the main bands of the day. He was probably already earmarked that, if he went to Korea, he would in the Tenth Special, whereas I got in by an audition.
C: Do you think he was very far ahead musically from everyone else in the band?
G: Yes, there were other excellent guys from main bands but Pepper stood out. Even though we had written arrangements, I'm quite sure what he was playing wasn't written. There was just the background, where the band was backing it up, so he was probably doing his own ad lib completely.
C: Did Pepper have a chance to write any arrangements for the band or were all the arrangements pretty stock?
G: I do know that we had a couple of guys writing arrangements for the band. He might've been one of them who was writing the arrangements.
C: What was the typical performance? Walk me through. If I was in the audience, tell me what I'd see?
G: A typical show was an hour long. They'd always open up with some fantastic uptempo arrangement of the band and maybe even play a couple of them before getting to any of the specialty acts. It was really trying to get the guys excited right off the bat. Then the specialty acts varied between the different platoons. We had this hypnotist, Bob Weiss. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it. I know he had no way of getting any shills in the audience. He would make a post-somatic suggestion: He would say a certain word and they would do something. I couldn't believe that a hypnotist was that good to do it. The Country Western player was from Nashville. He was playing the hit songs of the day. He went over extremely well. We did have a number of singers that were quite good.
C: So the band would break into small groups and you'd have little performances, singing or whatever it was?
G: Right. The band would still be sitting there but we'd be playing in front of the band. The band would back up the singers or the things of that nature. I'd play some solos, but the band would also be backing me up. The band varied from maybe twelve to fifteen members, depending on who was rotating in. The band was fantastic! I would've never had the opportunity to play with that high a quality of group if I hadn't been in the service.
C: You had the comedian Al Lamo?
G: He was very, very good! All of the specialty acts had different outfits.
C: Did you ever get a chance to record the band?
G: I'm going to give a qualified "no." I wish I did.
C: You had a three year tour of duty, correct?
G: Right. I got out a little early because I served overseas. I was what they called an "RA." I enlisted. That's the reason I was three years. If you were drafted, you were only two years.
C: I'm trying to figure out Pepper's tour of duty. Do you think it was shortened because of his service overseas?
G: It could've been. He went in '51 and he came out . . . ?
C: He enlisted on July 12, 1951 and he got discharge papers at Fort Custer, Michigan on June 5, 1953.
G: OK, then he was drafted, but he could've been earmarked for Tenth Special when they needed one. He left [Korea] in May and they pulled the shows off the road at the cease fire in June.
C: Where was Pepper based in Incheon? What was there?
G: He wasn't based there. He landed there.
C: Where would he have gone then?
G: He would've gone to Seoul, and from Seoul they would've gotten him as soon as possible into the second platoon.
C: In Seoul he would've been in a bunk somewhere?
G: He would've been in Seoul probably no more that one or two days at that time.
C: What was that place called?
G: Eighth Army Headquarters. Actually, the Tenth Special Service Company was a member of the Adjutant General Corp. of the Eighth Army Headquarters. On our collars we wore a shield that stood for the Eighth Army Adjutant General Corp.
JACKIE GOULD: "Adjutant General," in today's nomenclature, are the lawyers. It's the legal arm of the Army.
G: I think it's important that you do mention Tenth Special as a member of the Adjutant General Corp. of the Eighth Army Headquarters because that's very high on the hog.
C: Who were some of the guys doing logistics?
G: There were usually about 18-19 players or entertainers. The others were in charge of keeping the trucks in shape. They were the ones that put the tents up and took them down. They helped set up the props if we were using them. They were very, very important people, especially when we were on the road and we weren't using our trunks. When we were at MASH Units they already had tents there. I'm quite sure Pepper would say the same thing: We really enjoyed playing the MASH Units because here's where the guys were that were severely wounded right off the front lines. They sure needed morale boosters.
C: How often did you doing that?
G: We were doing that fairly often. We were going back and forth from the MLR to the MASH Unit. We probably did MASH shows maybe twenty times.
C: You did basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood? How long was basic training?
G: Eight weeks.
C: What was that like to get through?
G: That was actually very interesting because they were giving you all kinds of training: On bazookas, going through obstacle courses, all kind of things. I was one of the top sharpshooters since I had been a rifle instructor before being in the Service. But I never did any shooting at all in Korea.
C: Did Pepper or any of these guys do any fighting?
G: Not in Korea, to my knowledge. When the enemy broke through at times at night, we were there but I don't think you could say we did any actual fighting. We were riding with the infantry guys at the time. We were prepared. We carried M-1s or M-2s--whatever it was with us--but I don't think we ever did.
C: The great drummer Mel Lewis said that Pepper picked up a really nasty foot fungus in Korea and he still had it three years later when he toured with Kenton in 1956. What was it like with personal hygiene and traveling?
G: It was a little bit rough because it wasn't too often that you had the ability to take a shower. If you did, it might even be a cold one. We sometimes would play an extra show--it wasn't on schedule--for officers, who would have their own shower and all that kind of stuff. They were at the front lines. By doing it, they would maybe allow us to use their shower facilities.
C: Normal things like going to the bathroom. Did you go outside?
G: Sometimes there'd be latrines at different areas but you'd stop along the road and take a leak. You had toilet paper. They provided it for you.
C: Did you eat mostly cold food or did you have a designated cook?
G: Actually, we did have what they call "C Rations" (canned food) occasionally, but we would quite often eat with whatever group we were playing shows with. We played for the British, which was in the wintertime, where you cleaned your utensils afterwards. It was frozen over. You couldn't even clean your utensils. It was the most filthy I'd ever seen.
C: Pepper left before you got re-assigned?
G: He left before the shows were off the road. He only started playing shows maybe six weeks before I did but he would've still played in a heck of a lot of shows. I never kept track of it but when I was in Korea, when they awarded me that special medal, they said I played in 268 shows in front of an estimated 189,000 troops in less than a year.
C: Wow! That basically averaged one a day.
G: The highest we ever did, and it only happened once, we played four shows in one day. We very often played two shows in one day.
C: Was that because you were playing two shows in one spot and then you'd play another two shows in another spot?
G: We did four shows. We did some traveling that day, so we played two shows in one area and two shows in another. But four shows in one day is tremendous because the roads that we had to travel through in the MLR were so terrible, you couldn't go more than ten, fifteen--twenty miles an hour would be fast! We couldn't go very fast at all.
C: How about flat tires and breakdowns? Did that happen a lot?
G: That did happen. We had one truck that was terrible. When went to a motor pool one day to do some work on it. Ultimately, we exchanged the hood of the truck with a brand new one, putting our hood on a new truck so it had all our information on it.
C: Was Pepper part of the command performance for President Rhee at the Presidential Palace?
G: Yes he was, very definitely.
C: Have any photographs or any information about that surfaced?
G: I have heard that there was a recording made of the Tenth Special, all the way through.
G: That would've been around the time that the recording was made of Jerry [Lehmeier, in April 1953]. It was on the road.
C: Did a performance ever stop because of an insurgency or artillery or anything?
G: There were times when shows were cancelled, yes.
C: How about in the middle of a show? Did you have to stop because you had to duck and take cover?
G: That didn't actually happen. I didn't know until after I published the book, but there were three people killed from the Second Platoon.
C: That was before Pepper and you?
G: Right. One was killed by a sniper and two were from land mines.
C: About those dud mortars that had "We enjoyed the show too" in English, Pepper was in the band at that time?
G: Yeah, very definitely.
C: There were two mortars that said, "We enjoyed the show?"
G: Yes. They probably wanted to make sure that at least one of them came through OK.
C: That's hilarious! You were on the road almost the entire time, but tell me about the time with the house boy and where you would've been staying then. That was in Seoul, right?
G: That was in Seoul. When we were on the road, not very often, we'd be in Seoul just a day or two while we were redoing different supplies or things changed. I was actually stationed at Fort Headquarters after the shows came off the road and that's when I got to know Kim Byong Joo. I didn't know him earlier when we were there for a day or two at a time. That's only when Pepper would've gotten to know him because [Pepper] wasn't there after the show came off the road.
C: Regarding the chronology, where would you've gone from Seoul to do your very first show?
G: I think there was one rehearsal and then I went.
C: You have a map in your book but I'm trying to get a sense of how all this flowed. The first stop was the British Commonwealth UN Unit. A lot of this was in territory that was barely marked, right? How did you guys get around? Who navigated?
G: We had thirteen vehicles. One was a Jeep. One was a three-quarter-ton truck, and then there was this one special, large truck that was the same size as what they call a "Deuce-and-a-Half." And all the rest were Deuce-and-a-Halfs. Our trucks were pretty well filled with all the stuff we had to carry.
C: What does Deuce-and-a-Half mean?
G: Two and a half tons.
C: Were you traveling a lot at night or in the dusk?
G: It could be any time. If you were traveling at night, you didn't use much of any headlights. We tried to travel during the day if we could but at times we definitely were traveling at night.
C: There's a picture of Able Battery in the book. It's on page 20. Did you guys perform there?
G: Before the cease fire we definitely did play there. Able Battery is the farthest north we ever played.
C: The Bulldozer Bowl? Do you know where that was?
G: That would've been back about twenty miles from the front lines.
C: Do you remember any of the shows or locations when you were doing two a day for ten straight days? You said that week was especially grueling.
G: That would have been near the MLR to do that many that often. We played in Pusan, which was sort of near the end. They brought all of our thirteen vehicles and us back on flatbeds aboard a train. It took us two days to get back up to Seoul. On the front of it, while we were on the flatbeds, we were playing and going through these little towns where the Koreans were. They were rather amazed. It was like a circus. These weren't scheduled as performances. We were just playing for ourselves, goofing around. That would've been on our way home from Pusan. We were eating "C" Rations only.
C: What kind of horrors did you see? I'm trying to understand what kind of horrors Pepper would've seen on the battlefield.
G: We would've seen that when we were at MASH. We would've seen people with limbs missing. Around the countryside things were bombed out. Seoul was virtually 100% bombed out. The Chosen Hotel was still there, because the military used it for their high brass. What they called the Dak Soon Mansion (or Blue Roof Mansion), where President Syngman Rhee lived, they never touched that. Otherwise, it was really almost completely a bombed out area.
C: Pepper told me that the Koreans were absolutely terrified of the Chinese invading their country.
G: That's true.