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Barr, orchestra entertained troops with '51 road tour

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Frankie Barr (right) and members of his orchestra prepare to leave Monessen by bus for Camp Atterbury, Ind., on Feb. 8, 1951. The photo is from the family archives of the late Jesse Wilson, longtime vocalist and emcee with Barr’s band, who is seen fifth from the left.
Frankie Barr (right) and members of his orchestra prepare to leave Monessen by bus for Camp Atterbury, Ind., on Feb. 8, 1951. The photo is from the family archives of the late Jesse Wilson, longtime vocalist and emcee with Barr’s band, who is seen fifth from the left.

Longtime area band leader and musician Frankie Barr entertained thousands of people for many years at clubs – most notably the Twin Coaches in Rostraver Township – and other venues throughout the region.

One of the orchestra's memorable engagements, however, evolved on the road in early February 1951.

That point was emphasized in a headline on Page 3 of The Monessen Daily Independent on Feb. 16 that read: “Barr Visit Makes Big Weekend at Atterbury.” The story, carrying a Camp Atterbury, Ind., dateline, continued as follows:“With the arrival of Frankie Barr and his orchestra and a large delegation of Monessen visitors, Company D (Pennsylvania National Guard) proceeded to take over the social affairs of Camp Atterbury last weekend.”

The unofficial holiday began at noon Feb. 9, the newspaper recalled.

“Visitors began to arrive and a large number of men were granted weekend passes,” the story said. “A hot meal was served by Company D's kitchen crew, after which members of the band and guests visited in the company area or retired to their sleeping accommodations to prepare for the big Saturday night party.”

Members of Barr's band were quartered in the Company D area. Guests traveled by bus to Indianapolis, where Company D practically took over one of the city's leading hotels.

On Feb. 10, Company D and Frankie Barr's Orchestra acted as hosts at the opening of a new service club located in the 110th Regiment area. Soldiers from western Pennsylvania “crowded the dance floor and loudly applauded Barr's orchestra and Company D's hospitality,” the Independent reported.

“Many gallons of punch and a large layer cake were consumed by the celebrating GIs and their guests,” according to the article.

After dinner on Sunday at Company D's mess hall, the visitors from Monessen began their homeward journey.

A round of parties continued on Tuesday evening, however, as Company D soldiers enjoyed a gathering in their own area. The well-planned program featured such favorites as Sgt. Charles Goetz, Pfc. Thomas Wagner, Pfc. Joseph Righetti and “some surprisingly capable entertainers from among the new men in the company.”

The Monessen newspaper noted that expenses for the trip by Barr and his orchestra were shouldered by Monessen organizations and individuals.

“To them, the members of Company D extend their most sincere thanks,” the newspaper said. “Not only were members of the company able to enjoy a fine Saturday night party, but they were also able to add to their fund money which Frankie Barr turned over as being in excess of expenses. This money has been turned over to the company's unit administrator, Warrant Officer Paul M. Joseph, to aid in purchasing a standard typewriter on a company level. The purchase of a standard typewriter will do much to facilitate the ‘behind the scenes' administration that is so important to the well being and progress of the company.”

In related news about Company D, which had been activated during the Korean War, two promotions were announced. Cpl. Arthur Keller of McKee Avenue and Cpl. Alphonse Troilo of Clarendon Avenue, both of Monessen, were promoted to their current ranks from privates first class. Both men had been with Company D since early in its reorganization period following World War II.

A picture accompanying the story about Barr and his orchestra also emphasized the presence of Company D at Camp Atterbury.

The photo showed Maj. Gen. Albert C. Smith, deputy commander of the Fifth Army, conducting an inspection of the National Guardsmen from Monessen. Smith congratulated First Sgt. William Cousins on the appearance of the Company D soldiers. A 10-year veteran of Company D, Cousins was chief non-commissioned officer of the Monessen unit.

Company D and other units of the 28th Division of Pennsylvania were sworn into federal service with the U.S. Army on Sept. 5, 1950. Personnel of Company D reported to the Armory and were sworn into service at 8 a.m. by Capt. Gerald T. Vitale, commanding officer.

A newspaper account of the action noted that the men would train in Monessen prior to departure for Camp Atterbury “about September 11.”

“No dining hall will be set up at the Armory, Vitale said,” the story said. “Instead, the entire company will eat two meals daily at Johnson's Restaurant.”

The newspaper also reported that Sgt. John W. Cousins of 529 Ontario St. had been promoted to master sergeant and would serve as first sergeant of Company D. Eli F. Myers Jr. of 1025 Schoonmaker Ave., was promoted from corporal to sergeant, and Democretes Kafkalas of Schoonmaker Avenue and Charles S. Miller of Fayette City were promoted from private first class to corporal.

Drawing attention as re-enlistments were Anthony F. Santoro of 921 Schoonmaker Ave. and John G. Simon of 119 Ninth St.. Announced as new volunteers were Don Ball of North Charleroi, Robert L. Jones of Belle Vernon and Joseph Righetti, Robert Bubar and Michael J. Mykovich, all of Monessen.

Monessen's Company D, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, officially embarked on a new chapter in its history on Sept. 12, 1950, when it left by train for Camp Atterbury. An eight-column photo of the entire unit of more than 100 men was prominently displayed at the top of The Monessen Daily Independent on Sept. 11.

Mayor Hugo J. Parente led a brief speaking program at the Armory at 5 p.m. Tuesday. More than 1,000 people jammed the Armory and at least 2,000 more filled the streets outside the building and waited to cheer the men as they marched out. The Daily Independent said it was a moving send-off “marked by tears, good wishes and a downpour of rain.”

Parente told the Guardsmen, “the City is proud of you and will be solidly backing you whenever duty calls.”

Vitale, a veteran of combat duty in World War II, praised his unit as a “good outfit and is going to remain a good outfit. We have a job to do and we are going to do it to the best of our ability.”

Members of Thomas McKee American Legion Post 28 and its auxiliary gave each Guardsman a carton of cigarettes, and Salvation Army representatives were on hand with coffee, doughnuts and candy. Individual box lunches were packed for the men by Johnson's Restaurant, where a hearty meal had been served at 4 p.m..

The men, led by the Monessen High School band and cheered by the large crowd of relatives, friends and well-wishers, then left for West Monessen (Lock Four) to board day coaches for the rail journey to Indiana. The train stopped twice, once in Monongahela to pick up troops of Company A from that city and again in Pittsburgh, where troops from Scottdale, Mount Pleasant and Connellsville boarded.

Arrival at Camp Atterbury was anticipated at approximately 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The action marked the second time within in a decade that Company D had been federalized and the fifth time since the National Guard was formed in 1873 that the 28th Division had been called in an emergency.

“Ultimate destination of the 28th Division is unknown,” The Daily Independent reported. “There is the possibility it may be training for duty in Korea, where the conflict is expected to continue for some months. Others are of the opinion that it will be sent to Europe.”

Company D and other units of the Pennsylvania regiment remained at Camp Atterbury as 1951 rolled into its second month. They received – and obviously welcomed – an excellent taste of home cookin' when Frankie Barr and his Orchestra journeyed to Indiana to entertain them.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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