Published in The Lebanon Democrat Tuesday, September 9, 2014.
SAN DIEGO. – There are parades and parades, but the best ones were on Sundays in a land far away long ago.
With autumn looming even in the Southwest corner, memories of those parades are palpable in my memory. On Sunday mornings of my youth, the family would don their Sunday finest and drive down Castle Heights Avenue to West Main through the square to the First Methodist Church. En route, there would be a bunch of grey clad young boys marching in formation to the church of their choice. No, those weren’t the parades I remember.
We attended Sunday school and the 11:00 service (until my teens, there was only one Sunday morning service) and then rendezvous with Snooks and Bettye Kate Hall for Sunday dinner (yes, dinner was the noon meal and supper was the evening fare) at either a local restaurant or a home cooked meal at one of the two homes.
Sunday afternoon, I would play in the front yard. There, I first heard the parades. The military march music floated down the hill from across West Main on what is now Stroud Gwynn field. The Castle Heights cadets, about 500 strong, were marching in formation around that field in cadence with the band’s thumping beat. The marching rhythm was inspiring to this young lad.
I think in all of those Sundays through junior high, I actually went to one, maybe two, most likely to see my cousin Maxwell Martin.
When I reluctantly began at Heights, I was not as thrilled with the idea of Sunday parades. Sunday was my uniform free day. In addition to Sunday school and church, the Methodist Youth Fellowship met in the late afternoon, and we then attended the evening service. A free afternoon would have been a delight.
Regardless, I donned my grey wool uniform, put on my grey combination cap, and shouldered my M-1 rifle on most autumn and spring Sundays. With the band leading, we marched down the hill on that narrow tree-lined road now called Castle Heights Avenue North, executed a column left and lined up on the north side of the field with the battalion staff facing us mid-field on the south side. The stands behind the staff were filled family and other observers.
The drill team performed its fancy drills with their silver helmets glistening in the sun while the troops, including me, sweated underneath the grey wool. Then with the band still playing, our companies would march counter-clockwise, more or less in step executing an “eyes right” while our officers saluted the staff with their sabers.
The spring parades were much more impressive. That was when we donned the white pants, white combination cover, and the white webbing with brass buckles. However in retrospect, I remember the autumn “Pass In Review’s” as special in their own right. The autumn colors of yellow, orange, and brown were abundant. You could smell the season in the air. The marching music seemed to fit better with autumn.
At Vanderbilt, I suffered through what the NROTC called marching for a couple of years, and I didn’t go to a class or event without marching during my four months of Navy OCS in Newport, R.I. In fact my time at Castle Heights made me the go-to guy for spit shining and marching as an OC. But none of that compared to those Heights’ Sunday parades.
When I was the chief engineer on the U.S.S. Hollister (DD 788) in 1974, the officers were in the wardroom discussing the upcoming change of command in Long Beach. It was winter. A possibility of rain threatened the scheduled outdoor event. Considering alternatives, the weapons officer suggested marching the crew to the reserve auditorium about a mile from our pier.
The captain and I fell out of our chairs onto the floor laughing. We knew such a march would be total chaos. Thankfully, it didn’t rain.
The Corps of Cadets and the Aggie Military Marching Band at Texas A&M reintroduced me to the thrill of marching in the late 1970s. But I was an observer, and the marching there was a big time event. Yet A&M couldn’t match the Heights Sundays in my mind.
It was a long time ago and unfortunately, Lebanon or I will never experience that weekly parade again.