It’s Veterans Day – The picture above includes my father, John Steffen (in the lower right).  Dad was a professional big band, swing and jazz drummer in Chicago.  He was selected to be part of a band that was sponsored by Northwestern Univ. to go to Europe and show them American big band, swing and jazz music.  They were over in Europe for about 5 months.

Dad really liked jazz and played in hotels, at private parties and in some of the clubs on State Street on the South Side of Chicago.  While in Europe, dad saw Hitler and knew we’d be at war with him.  He came back to the U.S. saying – “there’s a maniac in Germany that’s like Napoleon and wants to conquer the world”.  He said here in the U.S. people dismissed him saying – “we beat Germany in WWI – he’s nothing”. 

Dad wanted to be a little higher up that just a buck private with a rifle when the war came, so he enlisted in the Army in 1940.  He went to basic training at Rockford IL.  There they learned he had taken an aviation course, so they sent him to the Air Corps.  While doing maneuvers in Missouri, they were jumping off a small cliff one after the other.  The guy after my father jumped too soon and landed on my dad’s back.  He wound up in a hospital in St. Louis.  We had a 98% recovery (couldn’t bring the clubhead back all the way when he played golf).  The pic. above is from MIssouri (we think).  My father taught gunnery – here’s his men with their machine (Tommy) guns. 

Dad spent about two years at Frederick Army Air Field in Oklahoma (nothing to hit in southwest Oklahoma if they crashed a plane).  Oklahoma was dry, so some of their flight hours were spent flying to Dallas to get beer.  Dad flew in B24s and B25s.  The pilot instructor on B26s was George Gobel, who later became a famous comedian.  Here’s a clip of him on the Tonight Show with Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Johnny Carson – Gobel appears about 8:20 into the video. 

The best I can guess, this picture is late 1942 – taken at Fort Bragg NC, where dad was a Supply Sergeant.  He saw many of the 50 states during the war.  He was pretty fluent in German and was 100% Luxembourger.  His parents came from Bissen and Vichten in Luxembourg.

Dad’s brother Felix was the top motorcycle mechanic in Chicago. When the war broke out, he enlisted in the Army. The Brits were looking for a motorcycle mechanic and Felix went to join the British in India, where he maintained a fleet of motorcycles for over two years. He taught quite a few of the native Indians to play the harmonica while he was there.  

The Grand Rapids Veterans Parade is/was today at 10 am. United Veterans Council of Kent County.