Although I had always liked beer, my induction into
the United States Marine Corps and subsequent
assignment to the Quantico Marine Band greatly
enhanced my appreciation of the frothy beverage, not
only because I became of legal age during my
enlistment, but also because the travels of the band
opened up a whole new world of regional brews. Our
duties as "musical ambassadors" took us to many areas
of the northeast and midwest which allowed for
sampling beers unheard of back in New Jersey.
Hudepohl and Falls City became entries on my beer
log when the band traveled to the Louisville area. Details
of how are related in a previous "Beer My Way" article,
"A Love Affair With Beer".
I will never forget the taste of the pitchers of
National Bohemian (locally referred to as "Natty Boh")
we had after playing at a county fair somewhere on the
Eastern Shore of Maryland. The people who had
engaged us invited us back to a large outdoor deck
featuring newspaper covered picnic tables, mountains of
steamed crabs and pitchers of Natty Boh. While the
scenario and cuisine were a perfect example of Eastern
Shore local color, for me , at least, eating crabs is a pain
in the neck: too much work for too little reward. But the
Natty Boh made me forget the aggravation and served
as a perfect example of why National Bohemian was
advertised as brewed in the "Land of Pleasant Living".
Not long after that trip we played in the Miss
Wisconsin Pageant Parade in Oshkosh. We were billeted
in a large dormitory on the campus of a local college and
immediately after settling in, headed for "town" where
we discovered "Peoples" beer and the local favorite,
"Chief Oshkosh". Hours later, full of Peoples and Chief
Oshkosh, we returned to the billets to discover that the
contestants in the pageant were quartered on a
different floor in the building. More about that at some
In 1969 the 2nd Marine Division held a reunion in
Boston for which the Quantico Band was to supply the
music. We played a parade, a couple of concerts and
some ceremonial stuff, and then headed out to check
out Boston. But Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church and
the USS Constitution were not on the itinerary that
evening. History and culture could wait until later as we
made tracks for the "Combat Zone", apparently a
version of New York's Times Square offering strip joints,
sleazy bars and other attractions for the twenty one
year old mindset.
Several of us entered a club which featured ladies
two and even three times our age who would cheerfully
remove their G strings for the bargain basement price of
a dollar. The only problem was they had it wrong: we
were handing them the dollars so they'd put the G
strings back on. In fact, some of the "dancers" were so
long in the tooth that many patrons were yelling for
them to leave the stage , never to return. But the place
did offer frosty bottles of Narragansett, and in an
attempt to ease the agony on the eyeballs, many
'gansetts went down the hatch.
An elderly DC-3, piloted by the last "flying
sergeant" in the Marine Corps took us to St. Louis ,
where we were to play the National Anthem at a
Mets-Cardinals game. Questioned as to the safety of
traveling in an aircraft that old, the Master Gunny
assured us that a DC- 3 could be flown into a mountain
and the wings would stay on. Very good to know if you
ever want to have an intact DC-3 after flying into a
mountain! But we obviously got there safely and even
though St. Louis is home to the "King of Beers", I was
first introduced to Falstaff in that city, and in Granite
City, Illinois, where we were staying at a small military
base, a little tavern had Hamm's on tap.
I can still see the back bar electric sign showing a
canoe being endlessly paddled from one side to the
other across a sparkling lake. The Hamm's WAS "as
refreshing as the land of sky blue waters"!
After a parade and concert in Mannheim,
Pennsylvania, we were divided into groups of four and
invited to stay in private homes. I and three others
stayed in a large old Pennsylvania house with a lovely
family, and after spending a few hours chatting in their
living room, our host at last asked if perhaps we would
like to accompany him on a trip to his local club, in those
days "clubs" being the only venue for having a beer on
Sunday in Pennsylvania.
I honestly can't remember if it was a VFW or
American Legion hall or even a Knights of Columbus or
Elks club, but I do recall that Reading beer was
abundantly on tap and that marines wearing blues never
had to dip into their pockets to buy one. (thankfully
....the pockets were all sewn shut, anyway!).
So many Readings were served that our gracious host
arrived home that evening being carried at each
extremity by a Marine only slightly more mobile than he.
Speaks well for Reading beer as a vehicle to strengthen
the relationship between civilians and the military.
A Marine band is always preceded in parades by a
color guard made up of local recruiters. The band is led
by an enlisted drum major and the band officer marches
to the right of the right guide trombonist in the front
rank. The officer is generally responsible for calling the
numbers to be played. Such was the scenario for a
parade we did in Hudson, New York, at the end of which
was a Rheingold truck with tap handles protruding from
its side dispensing steins of Rheingold Extra Dry for
thirsty parade participants.
As we neared the field where the parade was to
disband, the captain called for The Marine's Hymn. While
he was doing so, the drum major called for "Six Bits"
(nickname of John Philip Sousa's "Semper Fidelis", so
called because legend has it that Sousa sold the
copyright to his publisher in 1888 for seventy five
cents) over his left shoulder. Half the band heeded the
drum major while the other half launched into the Hymn.
The resulting cacophony caused the captain to vent his
displeasure by making us play the Marine's Hymn
again....and again.....and again....! When hearing the
Hymn all Marine's must come to attention and so did the
color guard, who after furling their flags, had quickly
repaired to the Rheingold truck for some refreshment.
At the first notes of the hymn they properly set down
their steins and assumed the position until the Hymn
ended, at which point the steins were again raised to
their lips only to be put down yet another time when
"From the halls of Montezuma..." started in again. This
was repeated several times before the captain, evidently
also feeling the pangs of thirst, relented and led the
charge to the Rheingold truck.
But the band didn't have to travel far to enjoy a
brew. As in any military town, Quantico had many
watering holes and although most just served up the
usual Bud, Pabst and Schlitz, it was also home to the
Globe and Laurel, a pub owned by Major Rick Spooner,
who gave lectures on the History and Traditions of the
Marine Corps and who was the only Marine I ever saw
that actually carried a swagger stick.
On a few occasions the band stopped in after a gig
to play "The Commercial" (Semper Fidelis and The
Marine's Hymn) and to enjoy a brew. The Globe and
Laurel has relocated to Stafford Virginia, just south of
Quantico and proudly serves Leatherneck Lager, brewed
by Old Dominion Brewing Company.
On the Quantico base was the "7 Day Store",
military equivalent of a 7-11, selling bread, milk, soda,
cigarettes and beer. At one point during my enlistment
it was selling Ballantine's for sixty cents/six pack or ten
cents/bottle. Since beer was banned in Marine Corps
barracks the trunk of my '63 Galaxie convertible was
packed to the limit in anticipation of the end of the sale.
Even the spare tire had to compete for space. Many
cases of Ballantine were delivered to my grandfather in
York, Pa. and an equal number made it back to their
birthplace in NJ on weekend swoops.
One of my best memories of the close relationship
between Ballantine's and the Marine Corps was on St.
Patrick's Day, 1970. We had played a job that morning
and had the afternoon off. For some reason I can't
remember, but probably because of a scarcity of funds,
I found myself standing on the banks of the Potomac
drinking trunk-cooled Ballantine in a drizzle with SSgt
Enrique Perales, a Mexican-American from Brownsville,
Texas, Cpl. Don Neal, great friend and African-American
from Monroe, La. and LCpl John Galuska, Polish-
American from Fall River, Mass., certainly an eclectic and
unorthodox blend of Paddy's Day revelers. Who needs
Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or similar instigators of
trouble to promote race relations when you have the
Marine Corps, common sense, and Ballantine to achieve
the same result.
Semper Fid-Ale-is and Cheers,
has to say
and it could
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by Dan Hodge