Reflections, by Bill Tomek

Corporal Bill Tomek
Corporal Bill Tomek

Name: William (Bill) G. Tomek
Branch of Service:  U.S. Army
Rank: Corporal, 4th Armored Division Band (III Corps)
Dates of Service:  1953-1955
Places Served: U.S. (Ft. Hood, TX)

I was drafted in June 1953, three months before my 21st birthday. Fortunately, I was accepted for assignment to the Army Band School after an audition on the trombone. The School was located at Ft. Riley, Kansas, which was only 100 miles from my parent’s home in Table Rock Nebraska. The School provided a course in music theory, a course about the motivation underlying performance practices of army bands, as well as rehearsal time. We were also expected to qualify on the 30 caliber carbine, but I missed the qualification day and was never asked to qualify. (The NCO in charge of the firing range probably “qualified” me on paper.) 

Upon completion of the eight-week school, I and several others were assigned to the 4th Armored Division band in Ft. Hood Texas. In route, we stopped at Ft. Chaffee Arkansas for a few days, and transients like us were used as guards at their stockade (prison). Guards were given a loaded carbine and assigned to a guard tower. I recall thinking that I can’t tell the officer in charge that I was unqualified on the weapon. But, I had hunting experience with a rifle and shotgun. So, I did not say a thing, and since no one tried to escape, it was a non-issue. If the band at Ft. Hood had carbines available, they were not used. Thus, I never fired the weapon that we were allegedly supposed to use. 

Most band members were college graduates or had some college education; our director—a Chief Warrant Officer—was a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music. The drum major and assistant leader was a graduate of Ohio State University, but was only a corporal. The number of privates, corporals and sergeants in a 42 piece band was fixed by an “organization table.” Promoted to private first class upon graduation from band school, I was made a corporal while a band member. The band was integrated by race, but not gender. 

As a corporal, I was the band’s safety “officer,” and attended an occasional meeting with commissioned officers. They treated me politely, but safety had to do with topics like weapons handling and driving vehicles, which had little relevance to a band. (We traveled by bus, provided by the motor pool.) 

Band members lived in suites designed for three persons, with small private bedrooms, shared bathroom, and shared living room. A rehearsal space was nearby and close to division headquarters. (The division commander sometimes attended rehearsals with his staff, I know not why.) The band had a variety of uniforms that required frequent cleaning or laundering, which was provided. We did polish our boots and belt buckles. Meals were provided at a mess hall for independent units like the band and the military police.   

          A typical day started with section rehearsal followed by band rehearsal. Since many jobs involved marching, relatively little additional marching practice was needed. Performances usually occurred afternoons, weekends, or evenings. With the rehearsal time plus performances, I became quite a good trombonist, though I did not have the natural talent to be “great.” Monday was the most common day off. On days with no job, we played volley ball, talked, wrote letters, or perhaps went to the PX or a movie. None of us had a car; so off-post recreation was limited. 

The band did many types of performances. One was playing for on-post graduation exercises. The monthly cook school graduation was a favorite, as they treated us to cake and coffee, and it was an “easy job.” (We played the national anthem and a little music before the ceremony.) The NCO school graduation was another regular job, where a one-star general gave the same speech every month. This became a subject of humor, as we silently (?) anticipated his words. The band played concerts at various venues, especially on holidays, and we also participated in variety shows on post, sometimes collaborating with professional singers.

The band played for many kinds of parades that often included units ranging from battalions to (rarely) the entire division. I have a photo of our band marching on Veterans Day, November 11, 1954 (below), and since the trombones are in the first row, I am quite visible (2nd from left). We occasionally met dignitaries at a nearby airport. This type event involved the dignitary reviewing an honor guard, escorted by a host, while the band played. We did some traveling within the state of Texas, e.g., to county fairs. We went to San Antonio several times while I was in the band, and stayed at the historic Fort Sam Houston. 

Veteran's Day Parade, 11 November 1954
Veteran’s Day Parade, 11 November 1954

          The band marched in a 6 x 7 (= 42) formation. Combining playing, watching the drum major (who did not use a whistle) and keeping alignments and spacing was a bit of a challenge. Band members felt a little superior to the other troops in parades, as some of them collapsed from heat exhaustion or just plain exhaustion, while the band never lost anyone. But, of course, we marched frequently and were in good physical shape. 

The various types of engagements required that we play a variety of kinds of music. Concerts included transcriptions for band of classical music as well as “lighter” popular music. Of course, for parades and concerts, Sousa marches (e.g., Liberty Bell, the U.S. Field Artillery March, Washington Post, King Cotton) were a staple. Since the commanding general was a West Point graduate, the Official West Point March was played frequently. 

          Playing for an occasional memorial service for those whose bodies were returned to the U.S. from Korea was a touching experience. My impression is that very few of the dead were returned, but full military honors were provided for those that were. I can still “hear” a military band playing hymns and also Chopin’s Funeral March. For me, it is an emotional memory. Related, my mother died in September 1954 (I went home on an emergency leave.).

Although asked to reenlist, I of course was not interested. However, our group had excellent esprit de corps. We were highly disciplined, partly because of the demands of music performance. It was a maturing experience for me. Upon returning to the University of Nebraska, I rejoined the University Band, and played until completing a master’s degree in 1957. But when I moved to the University of Minnesota to do a PhD (in economics, specialty agricultural economics), my music “career” was over. I ultimately gave my trombone to my God daughter. One postscript: I joined a church choir as a tenor, and although I could read music, my inability to sing as well as I thought I should frustrated me.

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Remembering Tyler Butterfield

On Friday, October 26, 2018, a car accident claimed the life of Corhusker Marching Band Member, Tyler Butterfield. Jenna McCoy, a sophomore trumpeter from Hickman, and Eliseo Torres, a freshman trumpeter from Bellevue were also taken to the hospital. Twenty-year-old Tyler Butterfield died at the scene. 

Tyler Butterfield
Tyler Butterfield (images courtesy of Nebraska Bands)

Tyler was a Rank Leader for B Rank in the Cornhusker Marching Band, a member of the Football Friday Pep Band, the Big Red Express, participated in Campus Band and was a member of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity.

Funeral service will be held at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, October 31, 2018 at the First Christian Church in Norfolk with Tim DeFor officiating. Interment will be at the Prospect Hill Cemetery, Norfolk. Visitation will be held 4:00-7:00 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the Stonacek Funeral Chapel in Norfolk. You can read the full obituary and leave condolences at Stonacek Funeral Chapel website. In lieu of flowers the family asks for memorials to be made to the family for a later designation.

A Go Fund Me account has been created to help Tyler’s family with expenses.

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Meet Your New Representative, Amy Pettit

At the 2018 Band Alumni Association meeting on Friday, September 14, 2018, you elected Amy Pettit to replace outgoing director, Jodi Alva. Here is a little more about Amy. As a director on the Board, she is your voice in helping to run our organization. You can get to know a little more about each of the members of the Board of Directors on our website at https://nebandalums.org/board-of-directors-officers/board-of-directors and the Officers at https://nebandalums.org/board-of-directors-officers/officers

Amy Pettit
Amy Pettit, piccolo from 2010-2014

Serving the UNL bands as a member of Kappa Kappa Psi brought me great joy and close friendships and I hope that I can continue to serve the current students by doing my part on the band alumni board.
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Remembering Deb Horn

Deb Horn
Deb Horn, tenor sax

Debra E. “Deb” (Mortensen) Horn, age 58 of Sidney, Nebraska, entered into her Heavenly Home surrounded by her loving family Monday September 24, 2018. Funeral services will be held at 10:30 A.M., Wednesday October 3rd in the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Sidney, Nebraska with Pastor Neil Carlson officiating. Burial will follow in the Greenwood Cemetery. In Lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the Jack R. Snider UNL Band Alumni Association at the University of Nebraska Foundation, checks payable to University of Nebraska Foundation, 1010 Lincoln Mall, Suite 300, Lincoln, NE 68508. Friends may stop at the Gehrig-Stitt Chapel at 1140 10th Avenue in Sidney, Nebraska on Tuesday from 1-7:00 P.M. to sign Deb’s register book and leave condolences for the family. You may view Deb’s Book of Memories, leave condolences, photos and stories at www.gehrigstittchapel.com.

A complete obituary will be published on the Gehrig-Stitt Chapel & Cremation Service website when available.

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Jack R. Snider Band Alumni Association Scholarship Recipients Announced

On Saturday, September 15, 2018, the UNL Band Alumni Association, Inc. awarded the Jack R. Snider Band Alumni Association Scholarship to Hanna Savidge and Elija Elmshaeuser.

Elijah Elmshaeuser is a senior in Mechanical Engineering. He is the trumpet section leader, and is from Ogallala, Nebraska.

Hanna Savidge is a senior in Elementary Education. She is the alto saxophone section leader, and is from Lincoln, Nebraska.

Jack R. Snider Scholarship Recipients
From left to right:  President Steve Pearson, Hanna Savidge, Elija Elmshaeuser, and Bob Snider

Recipients demonstrate leadership (formal or informal), volunteerism and integrity. They are a role model for their section and the band, and exemplify what it means to be the Pride of All Nebraska.

Recipients of this award receive $500 to help manage band-related expenses such as uniform dry cleaning, instrument maintenance, marching shoes and the credit hours required for participation in the band.

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