The Day of Reparation…#93 (the 60’s)

The day of reparation having arrived,  a representative of concern about Gary’s military commitment approached the Oklahoma Street residence,  requiring the pianist to accompany him.  Gary accepting his repression and subjection to a hearing of his indiscretions,  acceding to its outcome and discipline that was to be instilled.  Interned in the Fort Sill post stockade,  a General Court Martial convened , the outcome to be upheld by the convening authority but subject to review by the Military Court of Appeals.

Gary being dispatched and flown in an army de Havilland Beaver to United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth Kansas, known as The Castle., a maximum security facility situated on 2500 acres, its center rotunda with  eight wings,  25 out-buildings and 26 buildings within it walls,  providing residency for up to 1777 discredited members from all branches of the military service and staffed by 752 military and 158 civilian personnel.

On entering,  the interned soldier was introduced to the  3rd wing of The Castle, an  8 tier edifice for new arrivals for indoctrination, clothing acquisition, work skill evaluation   and  permanent placement location.  The new arrival soon discovering that the incarcerated  remained subject to military protocol and discipline, being issued brown military type uniforms, boots and subject to a military haircut with mustache and beards strictly prohibited.  Their 6 X 10 living space included of a lavatory slash commode, metal bed, standing locker, fold down table,  and upon departure for work, their area was to be ‘inspection ready’, bed made, clothing stored properly, much like basic training.


Gary accepting his newfound circumstance, transferring to the 2nd tier of cell block 4, discovering a silver lining in his new environment, the opportunity to audition for a fulltime work assignment with the 12 member Castle Dance Band.   A sense of anticipation as he mounted the stairs to the  bands working environment,  the upper floor in the confines of the smaller administrative 8th wing.  Having secured an interview,  introducing himself to the Band Director Sergeant First Class Demand,  the sergeant inquiring about his music experience, and then asking the enviable question,  can you read music, a shadow cast upon his hopes.   The pianist giving a yes and no answer, elucidating he was an intermediate,  able to reed sheet music but was hesitant at sight reading.   The brief interview coming to a close with no acknowledgement,  Gary following the Sergeant into a large adjoining room.

The room laden with musical instruments,  standing before him a group of men of various age,  apparently the members of the band.   The NCO giving no introductions, but pointing to an anteroom,  instructing Gary,  ”there’s a piano in there,  go in close the door and play.”    Gary entering  the room, closing the door, realizing he wasn’t auditioning only for the sergeant, but for the members of the band assembled behind the closed door.   The pianist seating himself before a console piano,  starting  his selections,  encompassing a variety of music, from Debussy to the Bumble Boogie and Stardust,  demonstrating his versatility.   The door opened, a somber looking bandleader instructing that he could return to his billets,  Gary hesitant, then noticing the slight grin on the NCO,  “welcome to the band  ”you’ve got the job Willson”.

A new outlook prevailed,  the musician analogized his confinement and the experience of a new spectrum in the world of music,  one construed as a detriment,  the other as an asset,  but even that was subject to change.   As a member of the band and his low risk infraction,  his status was changed to minimum risk and he moved from the rotunda 8 tier cell block complex to Building 462,   a  3 story billets with its own mess hall.

A new perseverance of music ascended the aspiring musician,  the orchestrated sheet music arrangement.   Gary finding the members of the band all professionals, entertaining years of musical accomplishment,   and most having been exposed to the streetwise life that is part of a musician experience.

Gary was impressed,  the bands instrumentation was congruent with the published stock arrangements provided for each of the instruments,  clarinet, alto, tenor and baritone sax’s,   trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass and even drums.   Sergeant Demands’  trumpet adding  additional brass when called upon.   The repertoire was  reflective of the NCO’s age,  composed of classic popular standards,  The Way You Look Tonight,  All The Things You Are,  The Nearness Of You,  and the regimented enterprise was highlighted with a vocal quartet with current popular hits by the Marcel’s,  Coasters and the Platters.

The auspices of the post NCO and Officers Club were regular host,  the band members provided sport coats, white shirts and ties from a band room rack to enhance their appearance,  the patrons savoring the nostalgia music from the past and the flavoring of the present.  Gary looked forward to when they were in concert with the full orchestration contingency of the Post Military Band for ceremonial gatherings,   giving insight to the big band era of Count Basie,  Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers.

The bands daily activity wasn’t always confined to music,  on occasion they were called upon by other departments for menial task.  Gary and another band member were completing a minimal chore in the Castle’s power building when they happened upon a raised wooden platform with 13 steps, immediately recognizing for what it was,  the gallows. It was common knowledge,  the sentence of  Private John Bennett,  for the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old Austrian girl, was soon to be carried out, death by hanging

Gary accepting his environment, coming to realize his punishment of  incarceration was instead,  a once in a lifetime journey into an another aspect of the music world.  The Musician savoring his learning experience and being a part of this melodious group.        

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