Friday, August 16, 2013

Fox Hole Concerts on Omaha Beach

A photocopy of the 502nd Port Battalion band in Britain, sent to me by Sherwin Grannum.
Photo courtesy of Robert Lessard. 
Just before the D-Day anniversary in June 2013 I got an email from Bob Lessard, a newspaper reporter in Massachusetts. He was profiling a D-Day veteran who had served on Omaha Beach. Sherwin S. Grannum was a member of the 502nd Port Battalion. My port battalion research was a helpful resource, so they gave my book a mention in the Middleboro Gazette article.

I talked with Sherwin over the phone and heard more about his Army days. His full-time job was trumpet player in the battalion band. I went back to my official Army historical report for the 502nd Port Battalion, and I found these excerpts that proudly described the band's contriubtion to morale:

The first "fox-hole" concert took place a week after "D-Day" and caused one of the rare interruptions of the Beach Operations. As the bandsmen "got their lips" and gave out a series of military and swing numbers, GIs came out of their fox-holes, disregarding snipers or the possible flight of Jerry [the Germans] across the sky, trucks pulled up along side the road and DUKWs lingered extra long at the transfer point to hear the music.

For four months the band entertained nightly, playing at hospitals and bivouac areas in the beach district. At the request of the American Red Cross and Brigadier General G. M. Alexander, Dpeuty Provost Marshall, the band made a tour of the hospital units in the Paris area, the Rainbow Club and the bicouac areas of the troops who drove the cargoes along the "Red Ball Highway."

The 502nd Port Battalion band contributed that intransic [sic] item to the Liberation of France and a notch of glory in the history of Port Battalions.

A September 1944 report to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade had this to say:

2. BATTALION BAND: The 502nd Port Battalion has good grounds for the belief that tneir organization was the first to furnish organized entertainment to American troops in Normandy. The story goes back to tne United Kingdom and the determination of Col. PIERCE that his Battalion would have a band. Instruments were procured and a band formed at Camp Crookston in Scotland. The instruments were brought along when the Battalion sailed for France. On approximately D plus 12 the first concert was given. It was an unplanned and informal affair which partially disrupted Beach operations as soldiers gathered from the fox holes or adjacent fields and trucks pulled up on tne road to listen to a little jive. On orders of the Brigade Commander the band was removed from other duties and put "on tne road" as the first organized show in Normandy. Nightly they performed under the direction of Cpl. Eugene D. Cosby of Alquippa, Pa., the band leader. Band ofiicer is 1st Lt. FREDERICK A. STONE of South Sudbury, Mass. who started his formalized musical career with Barnum and Bailey's Circus Band and continued it as the trainer of many a Massachusetts National Guard and American Legion Band. Master or Ceremonies for the road show was Chaplain EDWARD G. CARROLL of Washington, D. C.

I asked Sherwin if the rest of the battalion were resentful that he and the rest of the band didn't have to perform the hard work of unloading and moving supplies. He explained that the GIs weren’t jealous at all. They all appreciated being able to hear music while they worked.

My grandfather’s 519th Port Battalion had a band too. To see photos and read an excerpt about their playing in Antwerp see my previous post.

For another Army swing music post check out my article about Club Chipper, the Antwerp club where my grandfather and his buddies hung out.