Give him a tune and off he’ll march

July 23, 2012 

Each Tuesday night, the Atascadero Community Band opens its hourlong performance with a march, usually one composed by John Philip Sousa. So when the band recently launched into its opening march, a fellow who matched me in age and was sitting just behind me said, “It makes me want to enlist,” adding quickly, “not really.”

What he meant, though, was that he loved marching, especially when march music was being played.

I feel the same way. As a sailor, I didn’t march as much as any soldier or Marine did. But as a cadet at the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., we marched everywhere — from class to class, to fire training, to the mess hall, and then for half a day on Saturday on a giant drill field, which was about 3 acres of blacktop next to Narragansett Bay and a dozen destroyers.

It is inspiring when you get a group to march side by side, carrying some kind of rifle, turning left, turning right and making that most complicated of maneuvers (especially with a group of men), an about-face. There’s usually about 10 percent who don’t get it, thereby causing the whole group to fall apart. But when it works, it’s really cool.

There were loudspeakers placed around the exteriors of the classroom buildings, which provided the necessary march music. We weren’t supposed to talk, just march.

I remember one morning as we marched from a weapons class to seamanship, we were feeling especially good. It was the first day we became the upper classmen, and as we formed up at the end of the class, from the loudspeaker came that infectious Col. Bogey march from “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

When it came to the part in the tune when everyone whistles, we did too. We sounded great whistling along with the tune.

But because we violated the “no talking” prohibition, our group of about 30 cadets was placed on “report” and had to spend an extra two hours on base after everyone else was granted liberty — to march some more in close-order drill. It was kind of like being sent to your room as a kid when, in reality, you loved being in your room anyway.

I still love a good march and especially love watching a marching band in a parade preceded or followed by military personnel in close step with one another.

Sign me up.

Lon Allan writes special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for more than 45 years, and his column appears on the Local page every Tuesday. He can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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