We were sailing out of Honolulu, Hawaii headed for Osaka, Japan where we were scheduled to pick up a group of Marines and transport them to Pusan, Korea. It was July of 1952 and there was a war on.
The bucket we were on only made about 14 knots so we knew it would be a long journey. The old salts aboard the ship always tried to organize events to make the time pass. One guy, a Second Class Petty Officer from McKeesport, PA., was one of the chief organizers. His name was Ted Glarrow and he always bragged about his Greek mother’s cooking. He had attended college where he studied opera. Ted decided to set up a talent show with crew members vying for the prize.
He also knew that anyone entering the show would have to practice and rehearse and this would kill a lot of time. So for the next few days we could hear sailors rehearsing for the show. Finally the day of the show arrived. It was a beautiful July evening in the South Pacific when we all set up a stage topside, placed folding chairs around the stage for the audience and were surprised when even our commanding officer took a seat. His name was Captain Sharp and he was famous for getting on the PA system every time we left port and announcing, “Now hear this; now hear this; the uniform of the day will be anything that covers your butt.”
The show started and the first contestants were the Lord Brothers from New Orleans. They were guitar connoisseurs and when they banged out “The Wildwood Flower” on those guitars the audience was transfixed. They got a very long standing ovation. And then Ted Glarrow took the stage and we were sure he would break into one of his opera songs because we heard him often enough belting out Italian opera songs in the shower. He surprised us.
Before he started his song he told us a story about it and we could only wonder if the story was true. He said that an elderly Irishman living in Dublin heard a knock on his door one evening. When he answered it he saw two Army Officers standing there. One was an Army Chaplain. This was at the zenith of World War I. They told him that his son, who has just left for France with his army unit, had been killed. The elderly Irishman walked to the back of his home, sat down on a chair, and started to sing. And Ted sang the song the old man sang that day. It went:
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
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The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
‘Tis you, ‘tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
By the time Ted Glarrow finished singing that song there wasn’t a dry eye on the deck of that ship. Most of us knew deep in our hearts that some of us would not be coming back from Korea and that made the song so much more poignant.
I think about that night we all sat on the deck of that ship on that warm night feeling the breezes coming off of the Pacific Ocean and how one song brought all of us to a new reality in our young lives and we knew it would never be the same.
(Contact Tim Giago at email@example.com. Tim was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University with the Class of 1991. He was the founder of the Native American Journalists Association and is currently the owner and publisher of Native Sun News Today)
Contact Tim Giago at firstname.lastname@example.org
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