History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bob Hope, Judge Stahler & America's ultimate triumph

Judge Stahler - photo "courtesy" isn't for me.
I got within a few feet of Bob Hope once. The entertainer had arrived in Willmar via small plane and was slated to perform as some sort of fundraiser in Montevideo, as I recall. I heard later the event was not a success.
The name Bob Hope still meant a lot. But he was well past his prime. He was at a point where he might have been best off enjoying retirement. I'm guessing you couldn't count on a good draw just because of his name.
It's not uncommon for entertainers to keep going longer than they should. We wonder about Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones today. A performance by B.B. King was so deficient, someone felt he had to write a letter to the editor to the Star Tribune. To which, someone responded we should have more respect than that. And that's the whole problem: our need to feel reverence. Are we buying memories when we buy a concert ticket?
I had a chance to see Bob Hope when he was younger at the Minnesota State Fair. He brought out a female singer and fawned over her looks and not her musical ability. The latter was substandard. Mr. Hope said more than once: "Isn't she pretty?" Such an attitude wasn't surprising since Hope was from a generation that had pretty rigid ideas about women's roles. We love that generation - it's still with us - but it had flaws as all generations do.
Hope's generation needed prodding to overcome racial stereotypes too. Don Rickles made a living off these stereotypes. I saw Rickles perform in Las Vegas once. These guys were tremendously hard workers: Hope, Rickles and the rest. If you want to see just how regressive their sense of humor was, just watch a re-run of one of those old "Dean Martin celebrity roasts." Martin's "rat pack" was the epitome of lots of regressive things. Only in a retro sense do we laugh at a lot of this stuff today.
Hope was in his true salad days at the end of World War II. He had a reputation of building rapport with the troops, of helping the lowest-level troops sense some enrichment. The late Thomas Stahler of Morris remembered. So many of us still remember Judge Stahler. I never knew him personally. His recollections of his WWII service are included in a book put out by our Historical Society. The book seems more a treasure trove today than ever before. So many of the contributing individuals are no longer with us.
The book does so much to keep the memories of them alive. The term "the greatest generation" seems so apt when observing these names. I see some of their names and I can immediately envision them as if they were standing in front of me. Earl Wevley! They were so unique and iconic and yet so unassuming. They viewed themselves as ordinary people. Truly they were fortunate even getting through all the adversity of their younger years. The war was preceded by the Great Depression. 
Lean times in their youth
Tom Stahler graduated from high school in 1935, one year after my father. It was "the dirty thirties." The Depression was a specter. Stahler was born on a farm in Scott Township. He graduated from Alberta High School. My father Ralph graduated in Glenwood.
"There was no work, no money and no rich relatives," the Judge recalled. He decided that in his situation - no special advantages - he should get an education. Tremendously wise. He literally hitchhiked to Minneapolis to begin this venture, his possessions threadbare. He got his law degree seven years later. He said it's a myth how wonderful it is to "work your way through college." He wrote "I can attest that it is not so great."
He continued: "Those were the hardest years of my life and I missed many of the enjoyable aspects of college and cultural life."
Pearl Harbor, and then, changed lives
Tom had been married one year to Bonnie when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Instantly he felt he'd be getting a "government job" soon. He didn't wait for a draft notice. He enlisted as a Marine. He was called into active duty in December of 1942. His first destination was South Carolina. There, at a place called Parris Island - Tom called it "the hell hole of creation" - he was "indoctrinated" as a Marine. There he learned that a private was "the lowest level a human being could be."
Tom got promoted to Private First Class, and was selected for officer's training. He was named Second Lieutenant in the Marines, which he learned was "the second most lowly position in the armed forces," he wrote. He progressed to First Lieutenant and was then commissioned as captain.
The year was 1945, the last year of the horrible conflict, when Tom was ordered to the South Pacific Theater. He went there on a ship that "zig-zagged" to try to avoid enemy submarines/torpedoes.
Tom had a fascinating flashback as this whole episode unfolded. This is incredible. As a child, Tom listened to his mother sing: "Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga." It was a refrain so it got well embedded in Tom's mind. Where the heck was Zamboanga? What were the odds a little child from America's heartland would ever see it? Was it just a made-up place? Tom would learn it was certainly not made up. His ship pulled in there.
Zamboanga was on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
"On disembarking from the ship, I found to my astonishment that the monkeys, in fact, did not have tails. There were not many monkeys to be seen, however, because the Japanese had eaten most of them."
Tom's contingent moved on from that place. They moved on to Malabang where "the ground was so soft that digging foxholes was swift and easy." Wartime danger remained very much out and about. Foxholes! In the movies a soldier in a foxhole might pick up a live hand grenade and throw it back. I'm amused at how the "good guys" in these war movies have an uncannily good aim throwing grenades, even from fairly long distances. They all should have gone on to become NFL quarterbacks.
Soon Tom learned he was part of the burgeoning effort to invade the mainland of Japan - a daunting task to the maximum. A miracle then happened. The 'A' bomb was dropped. President Truman thus spared the lives of countless U.S. soldiers. Two A-bombs were needed vs. the blindly committed Japanese.
Tom recalled that Okinawa was a staging area for the planned invasion of the mainland. Tom had arrived there on an LST (landing ship/tank). He saw thousands of ships in the harbor. Aircraft were "stacked." But the troops had another enemy besides the Japanese or "Japs" (or "Nips" for Nipponese). The weather loomed. In August Stahler's group was ordered out to sea on a small LST, part of an effort to "prevent the thousands of ships anchored in the harbor from crashing into one another in the typhoon, which was upon us," he wrote.
Tom experienced three very violent days in the China Sea. His group then arrived in a Chinese city, there to disarm Japanese troops who had been in control. He found that the Japanese were terrified, not so much by being in the face of the enemy, but gripped by fears of what would happen when they returned home as a result of their "surrender."
Hazard prompts a prayer (in Norwegian)
In December Tom got word that he'd be heading back to the "states." He traveled in a two-engine transport. A violent rainstorm knocked out one of the engines. "The pilot gave orders to prepare to ditch," Tom remembered. The rubber boat was released.
I'm not sure a movie could do justice to everything Tom saw. Tom heard a comrade saying a prayer in Norwegian.
A miracle: The pilot got the plane to its landing in Hawaii with only one engine. Tom got on a ship and headed to San Francisco. There was Bob Hope! The entertainer was waiting there to greet and show good cheer with the troops. "He paid for hotel rooms and dinner for all the Marines on board," Tom wrote.
This was Bob Hope at the apex of his life and career. It was nice what Hope did in Viet Nam, but our troops shouldn't have been there in the first place. He once asked while in Viet Nam: "What's that smell?" It was marijuana.
Tom was able to have a few words with Mr. Hope. Tom said: "Do you know that the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga?" Hope looked a little confused. He "scratched his head and stared at me over his shoulder," Tom wrote.
"I returned to Morris where our family has lived ever since. I practiced law for 23 years and was a District Judge of the 8th Judicial District for 18 years."
What an incredible life. A classic "greatest generation" life.
Much information for this post comes from the Stevens County Historical Society book: "The '40s, a time for war and a time for peace."
Addendum: I remember a joke that Bob Hope told at the Minnesota State Fair in the '70s. He talked about the bartender who looked down to see a grasshopper, and who said "I suppose you don't know we have a drink named after you." And the grasshopper looked up and said, "You mean you have a drink named Thorndike?"
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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