Sunday, May 8, 2016

Serenade In Khaki and Yellow

What is it that makes a man think fondly of a regiment? A ship? A particular airplane or a military installation of any kind?

Is it nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a word derived from the Greek nostos; to “return home”.

Websters further defines nostalgia as homesickness or an “excessive yearning…. to return to a past experience….. or irrecoverable condition.”  I like that idea. An “irrecoverable condition.”
Crossed sabres and a youthful fools image
I will never be that young man of seventeen again who, over fifty years ago found himself with a group of men, similarly stunned and groggy at five AM in Fort Dix NJ jarred from an exhausting sleep by a bugle. Revile resounded through the speakers in and around that base that had seen so many sons, husbands, brothers and fathers plunged into the world of salutes, orders, work and  weapons that followed the drumbeats of war.

Reveille. Played around sunrise and signaling the first formation of the day remains to me a call at once nostalgic and slightly annoying. It interrupted many a pleasant dream and began many a self-inflicted hangover.

But it was a plank in the structure of living I needed at that time of my life.

And throughout the day bugle calls would mark the clock – mess call, mail call, taps and everything in between. I cannot hear any of these calls today without smiling at my youth as it flew by and I sat looking out the window,  having no idea of where I was bound.
The patch known affectionetly
as "The Horse Blanket"

My regiment, the regiment that I remember and look back on with a sense of pride was the Seventh Cavalry of the First Cavalry Division.

 “Gary Owen, sir!” was the cry from your mouth once you donned the yellow scarf, sewed on the “Horse blanket” shield with horses head on your sleeve and wore the crossed swords with the number seven in the crossed blades. And the pin on your cap or jacket with the hand holding the sword rampant and under a horse shoe with the words “Gary Owen” scrolled over the top was a badge to treasure, for within it rolled a list of men who had laid down their lives for these latter day horse-soldiers, including this geeky journalist-without-a-clue.

I am proud of that regiment. It was a home for me and a school of life, teaching me discipline, courtesy, responsibility and respect for all those men who had gone before. As an imbedded correspondent with the regiment, I had time to research.

Ia Drang Valley. Vietnam. New steeds
for the Cavalry
Garry Owen, from the word garryowen is derived from Irish. The term refers to the area of Garryowen in the city of Limerick, Ireland.
This song emerged in the late 18th century, when it was a drinking song of rich young fops in Limerick. It obtained immediate popularity in the British Army through the 5th Royal Irish Lancers.

Believe it or not, Ludwig Beethoven himself composed two arrangements of the song  in 1809–1810.

In early 1851 Irish citizens of New York City formed a militia regiment known locally as the Second Regiment of Irish Volunteers. The group selected "Garryowen" as their official regimental marching song.

It later became the marching tune for the American 7th Cavalry Regiment during the late 19th century.
The tune was brought to the 7th Cavalry by Brevet Colonel Myles W. Keogh and other officers with ties to the Fifth Royal Irish Lancers and the Papal Guard, two Irish regiments in the British Army. As the story goes, it was the last song played for Custer's men as they left General Terry's column at the Powder River.

The name of the tune has become a part of the regiment; the words Garry Owen are part of the regimental crest.

There is a Camp Gary Owen north of Seoul, Korea, (my old stomping grounds) which houses part of the 4th Squadron of the regiment. There is also a currently operating Forward Operating Base, FOB Garryowen, within the Maysan province of Iraq. FOB Garryowen was established in support of Operation Iraqu Freedom 8–10 in June 2008 by 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. 

Operation Iraqi Freedom. 2003
The 7th Cavalry became a part of the 1st Cavalry Division in 1921, and "Garryowen" became the official tune of the division in 1981.

The tune became the name for bases established by the Cavalry in current conflicts. The most recent was Combat Operating Base, (COB), Garry Owen in the Maysan Province of Iraq.

But I also see a crushed brim hat, fierce mustachioed John Wayne and the awesomeness of the Monument Valley so dear to John Ford. “The Cavalry Trilogy”(She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande and Fort Apache) it was called; those movies with a brass band background and a filmed realness so well done that you could almost smell the sweating horses, men, manure and dust kicked up by tons of flesh rolling as one in a charge with the flags, guideons and company banners flapping gamely.

That’s when I sit up…on the edge of my seat and remember that time so long ago in the back of a deuce and a half in Korea. Bugging out on a cold morning. Knowing the North Koreans had moved their tanks across the DMZ. Clutching my M1 (I still remember the serial number) and jiggling with freshly issued live ammunition. And I wore a crushed khaki cap with a crossed sword seven pinned to the front, totally out of uniform and grinning like a fool. I was further armed with a 70 mm signal corp issued combat camera lay snug beside me. I figured I could club a “gook” with it if he got too close.

Yeah George. Brilliant!!! You young fool.

And all the old guys cramped on wooden benches and sitting around me  Guys who’s memories of 2nd WW and a bullet riddled Korea made up their resume. They all shook their heads and laughed at me. They knew. 
I didn’t.

All I could see was John Wayne and all I could hear in my head was an Irish drinking song. Where was Drop Kick Murphy when I needed them?
Not even born yet.