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May 3, 2013

My “Green Hornet”

Roy Meachum

The only medal I earned during my almost seven years in the Army that didn’t come automatically was what is casually referred to as “The Green Hornet.” The Army Commendation Medal was not routinely handed out, as became the case subsequently. I received it in the castle at Hoechst, Germany in 1952.


Two years before Maj. Joseph Gigandet appeared at Fort Myer. We knew each other in the American Forces Network, where he had a well-regarded reputation for being very fond of beer; I never saw him drink anything else. This was no social call. Returning from Europe, he reported to the Military Personnel Procurement Services Division, and given an office in yet one more World War II “temporary building,” on Washington’s Benning Road.


Joe’s specific assignment was to fill networks’ vacancies with radio programs “sponsored” by Army and Air Force recruiting. He came to Fort Myer seeing what Hugh Curry could do for his mission. My commanding officer agreed to split the band into component parts so Joe could grab time on ABC, CBS and the old Mutual broadcasting system. And he wanted me especially, remembering the shows I wrote and performed in Europe. In addition to the U. S. Army Band programs, he scheduled a monthly trip to West Point for four Liberty Network weekly broadcasts by the United States Military Academy Band, making an informal arrangement with Captain Curry that I announced.


Lt. Gene Speaks joined MPPSD as Joe’s assistant; we all knew each other from Hoechst. I was delighted to see Gene; we were yelling buddies in the castle bar. He and I became resigned at the trips up US9W to Highland Falls: Joe insisted on drinking his breakfast beer in Nyack’s diner. Eight o’clock in the morning was way too early for us. The West Point deputy bandmaster, Capt. Barry Swisher, invited us to his home after the broadcasts. At his lunch table, we heard about President Harry Truman’s dumping General of the Army Douglas McArthur; the news was taken at his Alma Mater as “about time.”


Back in Washington, singers Kay Starr and Rosemary Clooney, the great Jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden and trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, among others, showed up at the wooden white-painted building on the edge of the Fort Myer parade field. They all were recorded by Mutual network engineers in the big rehearsal room; the band’s musicians particularly enjoyed the visit from Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s great arranger and co-composer of some of the orchestra’s biggest hits. The recordings were scheduled in mid-mornings. Both Messers Teagarden and Armstrong refused the band’s version of coffee. Instead, they took bottles of seemingly clear water from their horn cases; no big deal. Their breaths were heavy with gin afterwards. They never missed a beat.


The recruiting shows were heavily laced with music popular in these last years of the swing era, plus Dixieland. To accommodate the different formats, the full band appeared for concert-type productions. The gut-bucket group I called the Army Mules, knowing early Jazz sold itself by making fun of itself; the musicians didn’t like that at all. But it worked for the radio show.


The orchestra, led by Sgt. Dick Kemp, I dubbed the Army Blues, taken of course from the West Point Alma Mater. The tune, by the way, came from a Civil War song, “Aura Lee,” for which my mother was named, in a slight variation, Oralee.


The appearance of singer Eddie Fisher led to ABC Radio giving MPPSD a half-hour on Saturday mornings.


That’s how I earned the only genuine medal in my cabinet.


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