Veterans’ BIOs

Raymond Vincent Gill

0004273668Gill_20111103Raymond Gill (1926-2011) was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio where his father worked at the town steel mill. Gill completed basic training at Camp Wheeling in Georgia and completed further training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. He served with the 76th Infantry Division of the Army in the European Theatre of Operations and saw combat in France and Germany. In addition to his other duties, Gill played saxophone in his regiment’s jazz band while preparing for deployment in England. The band practiced during the soldiers’ limited discretionary time and performed at the clubs of officers and non-commissioned officers alike. There were even a few occasions when Gill and the other members of the band were allowed to practice during regular hours of duty. The band was so important to Gill that he twice turned down a promotion from private first class to sergeant because the promotion would have prevented him from continuing to perform with the band. Once Gill and his comrades crossed the English Channel and began fighting in France, however, the band was disbanded…but only temporarily. On VE Day orders came for him to report to the back of the line to join up with the band again. He continued performing with the band in the summer of 1945 until his division was broken up, upon which he was ordered to join a Dixieland band in Compiegne, France. When this band, too, was disbanded he performed with a soldier show that toured all over Europe. He stayed with this group until May of 1946 when he was finally sent back to the States to be discharged. After receiving a degree in Music Education from Murray State College in 1950, he began his more than thirty year career teaching music both at the high school and college level. Gill’s story reveals how important the music of the time was to the war effort. It was so important to Gill that he gave up two promotions to continue performing during the war and so important to the Army that he was pulled back from the front lines as soon as they needed him in the band again. The music of the time was so essential to the war effort because it reminded the troops of home and in this way also helped to remind them of the place and people for which they were fighting.

Harold L. Fritzsche

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Harold L. Fritzsche was born on March 30, 1925 on a farm in Wessington, South Dakota. Fritzsche completed his basic training at Camp Fannin in Texas and served with the 33rd (and later 24th) Division of the Army as part of the US occupation force in Japan. He was accepted into the division band where he played tuba for parades during the day and NCO and officers’ clubs at night, even playing for Japanese civilians from time to time. The Japanese audiences received the soldier’s very well and enjoyed the entertainment, something of which they had very little during the war. The band was led by an Army warrant officer and would practice for four hours each morning before getting into jeeps and heading to their musical engagements. Every night the band would finish around ten o’clock and head back to their barracks in Kobe, Japan. Fritzsche played the bass in a USO show as well and had the opportunity to perform with the Queen’s Own Highlanders on one occasion. Fritzsche’s story shows how music was used to help establish peaceful ties with Japan and serves as a reminder that though people may come from different places, they are in reality more similar than different.

Carl William Henn, Jr.

Carl William Henn, Jr. was born on September 7, 1921 in Evansville, Indiana. Henn completed his basic training at Camp Dix in New Jersey and completed further training at Fort Hamilton in New York. He served with the 396th Port Battalion of the Army in North Africa and Europe and attained the highest rank of corporal. Because of the condition of his eyesight Henn was not trained in combat but rather trained as a longshoreman. While in Palermo, Sicily Henn was introducing himself to the musicians in the band at a USO show, and, once he told them that he played trombone, they asked him to join the band. Soon after a ward officer showed up at his barracks with a trombone and sheet music to hear his audition and Henn earned a spot on what turned out to be General Patton’s 115th Armored Ground Forces Band. Besides its performances at USO shows, the band played at officers’ clubs and Army hospitals, entertaining troops wherever it went.

Harry Connick, Sr.

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Harry Connick, Sr. was born on March 27, 1926 in Mobile, Alabama. Connick completed basic training for the Navy in San Diego, California and completed further training in amphibious landing in Coronado, California. Connick served in the Pacific as an LCVP coxswain and was assigned to the USS Lander, an attack transport ship, where he was involved in rescuing Marines at Iwo Jima and was also involved in the battle for Okinawa. He was not a part of a service band during the war but in his interview for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Connick discusses the importance of music to the war effort in great length. He discusses how the music of the war really helped to reinforce the commitment of all Americans to the war effort. Of course hundreds of thousands of men and women were called off to the service, but others were involved in collecting scrap metal, all Americans were forced to deal with rationing, and those on the East Coast endured black outs at night, implemented to protect the coast from the activity of German U-boats. Swing tunes like “Ration Blues” and “When the Lights Go On Again” dealt with these sacrifices made by all of America. As Connick says, “the music played a vital role and the music was synonymous with what we were experiencing.” Connick later served as the District Attorney of New Orleans and sang with a big band in the city in his free time.


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Nazi Suppression of Jazz

In our country, in this day and age, it seems almost impossible to believe that at certain times and in certain places specific genres of music were prohibited. On the radio today you can choose from countless genres and countless radio stations: each person has their favorites. In Nazi Germany, however, a ban was placed on jazz like a ban was placed on so many other things in society. After conducting preliminary research I believed that this ban on jazz was only due to the fact that Germany was at war with the United States, the U.S. being the birth country of jazz. It soon became clear that this was only part of it. To start, one of the greatest elements of jazz is the genre’s mix of cultural traditions. Well, it will surprise no one that such mixing of cultural traditions was not appreciated by Nazi Germany. The fact that many of the bandleaders of the time, like Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman, were either black or Jewish musicians, alone, did not sit well with the “master race.” Because of this, according to Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, the Nazis had a special name for jazz: “Judeonegroid” music. In his 1977 book The Bass Saxophone, Skvorecky includes a list of Nazi restrictions on music. Here are a collection of them:

“pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20 percent of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;

in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;

as to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (the so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated.”

To think that these were rules is utterly astounding. The rules are so full of stereotypes that it’s hard to believe anyone ever took them seriously. Indeed, this is exactly Skvorecky’s point. At the time only a teenager, he and his friends had a jazz band and played around Czechoslovakia despite this ridiculous ban on jazz. Despite their best efforts, jazz continued to be loved throughout Nazi-controlled Europe—a testament to the importance of music and the effect jazz has of making people feel free, if only in spirit. It is impossible to quantify how helpful jazz was during WWII using numbers, but I think it’s clear that it had a very important role indeed. This is, I believe, why jazz was banned by the Nazis. The Nazis were attempting to diminish the morale of the people it conquered, and jazz was standing in their way. Though the U.S. did not get militarily involved in the war until 1941, our music had been fighting the war from its beginning.

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