This anecdote was related to me in a letter from Bill Ford, one of Walt’s Navy buddies, re an incident on the shakedown cruise.

During WW2 one of the Navy’s responsibilities was to transport Marines to dangerous destinations, but there still existed the inevitable rivalry between branches of the Armed Forces.  One would not expect there to be much room for an all-out knock-down/drag- out battle aboard the cramped quarters of a Battle Cruiser, but Dad managed to stir up a hornets’ nest–with full military repercussions!

A military concert was scheduled for the next day and Dad was the conductor of the Alaska’s Navy band.  He spent all night working furiously, writing without the aid of a piano, using an overturned pea-coat locker as a desk. He may not have even allowed the band to practice the new piece: his own, souped up, jazzified version of The Marines’ Hymn! I suspect he had good reason to keep the melody–not to mention the rhythm–hush hush until the actual performance.

So the day of the concert dawned and the decks were spruced up for a large attendance–including the Marines.  Walt, as conductor, ushered in the instrumentalists who took their seats; then he rapped his baton importantly for their attention. It was a snappy tempo and he called out cockily, “OK boys–hit it!”  Well, the musicians performed the stately hymn with true Naval gusto and in no time the sailors in the audience were smirking to each other–relishing the Marines’ growing discomfort. This irreverent “arrangement” had come as total surprise out of the blue–of the deep blue sea…

Well, when this “sacred” piece was over, Walt graciously accepted the cheers of his fellow sailors, and bowed ostentatiously to ringing applause. However, there was a small portion of the audience which was doing a slow burn–not at all amused!  The Marines commander walked stiffly up to the band, with steam practically coming out of his ears.  Red-faced, with ill-concealed fury, he roared at Walt: “If I ever hear our special anthem butchered like that again–I will throw every damn member of this band OVERBOARD!” 

We don’t know if Walt suffered condemnation–or private commendation–from his naval superiors, but he never dared play that wonderful arrangement (with Marines present) again. Bill concluded his letter this way: “that was a damn shame, for it was a great arrangement!”  All of which goes to prove that the baton–like the pen–can indeed prove mightier than the sword. Or even temporarily a company of sword-wielding Marines!  



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