Joining the Navy when you suffer from motion sickness is perhaps not the smartest move. Yet at age 16, that’s exactly what Raymond did. And the experience shaped his life.
The week before Christmas, I played the piano at Ray’s memorial service, a privilege that both comforted and pained me. He was one of my biggest fans—and I felt the same about him.
I knew Raymond for only the last 6 of his 91 years, when he lived in an upscale senior facility where I play twice a month. We’d learned a lot about each other during our visits and lunches together.
Ray told me that in 1941, knowing he’d be drafted, he enlisted.
But why the Navy? His daughter explained it this way in her eulogy: “He wanted to get three square meals a day. And he liked the color of the uniforms.” Classic understated Raymond humor.
Ray’s father had been in the Navy, but soon discovered that boats made him seasick. He played clarinet in the military band instead. Ray couldn’t play a musical instrument, so the band wasn’t an option for solving his motion sickness problem. He ended up serving on PT boats.
I knew that Raymond was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WWII. But somehow he had never mentioned that during that time there were just a handful of records available for entertainment. One of them was the soundtrack from the 1943 Broadway show Oklahoma! He and his fellow seamen listened to it incessantly.
Over the years, Ray had asked me to play “The Nearness of You” and “Red River Valley” and “The Man That Got Away” and “Georgia.” But never a song from Oklahoma!
It was only after Raymond’s death, during a discussion with his son about music for the memorial, that I learned the deep emotional significance Oklahoma! held. His family asked me to include two special songs in the service.
So, my selections bookended by hymns and prayers, I played “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “Out of My Dreams (and Into Your Arms).” On an out-of-tune piano, in a small, poorly heated chapel, on a cold, sunny December afternoon.
It was a sentimental tribute to a gentleman I’ll miss.
From now on, these will be Navy songs, filed in my brain right next to “Anchors Away”:
Copyright © 2017 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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