Christmas Concert, USS Upshur, 1966

December 25, 1966, we were still on the Upshur.  With Sugden now a full-fledged bass player, and Ioli not a bad drummer, we could’ve actually had ourselves a little ship-board band.  Then Captain surprised us.  Rolled out some borrowed drums and a microphone held together with duct tape.  Like Santa Claus handing out presents.  Good ol’ Leadbetter.  

So me and Voina played the two guitars.  Ioli took the snare.  And our pal Ben Jessen sat on top of the marching band bass drum and banged it with a stick. No bass for Sugden, but he was okay.  We spent the holiday jamming, an outdoor concert right on deck. 

The guys ate it up, crowding in around us, shinnying up the cranes for a better view, hooting and hollering as best they could shoehorned in like sardines.  Felt like back home, the Satellites packing the teen clubs in Portsmouth, Virginia, my hometown.  My Uncle Roy, the Satellites’ manager, he’d have been proud.  Just like Captain was that Christmas Day.  For a few hours, at least, we didn’t think about what was waiting for us in Nam.

Well, except for one kid.  He definitely thought about it.  Too much.  Zapped his mind, a real basket case, and sent him overboard – again and again.  He’d jump, they’d fish him out. We had to make an unscheduled stop in Okinawa just to get rid of the guy.  That’s when we knew we were getting close...

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2024