Dave and Iola Brubeck on Dave's World War II experiences and his Army band The Wolf Pack


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SS: I would like to talk to you a little bit about your band in the Army, the Wolf Pack. So, I think it was after you went to Europe during World War II is when the Wolf Pack was put together, and you were the leader of that band. How did that band come together?

DB: We had been sent to Verdun in boxcars from Normandy, from the beach. And, it was about three months after D-Day. So, the fighting had moved in that direction. And, when we got off the train, we were in a place called the Mud Hole for the reason that it was mud. And, that night, some Red Cross girls came up on a truck that the side would open down. If you've ever read Studs --

SS: Studs Terkel, right? The Good War?

DB: The Good War. He describes that truck that the lieutenant made. So, there would be a piano in there. The side would come down, would be a stage. And, we were all sitting in the Mud Hole. I was sitting on my helmet to keep out of the mud, and the Red Cross girls asked if anybody could play the piano. So, I held up my hand, hadn't played for months. And, I played, and the commanding officer heard me. In the morning, we were supposed to go into a very bad situation.

SS: The very next morning?

DB: Yeah. We were lined up to go as replacements because the Company had been wiped out that we were going to replace because it was really an impossible situation to go up this hill. And, the Germans were on top of the hill. They could just shoot down at you.

I was in that lineup, and three of us were called out of the lineup. And, I expected the first two were musicians from California that we had traveled across the Atlantic, to get to France.

So, I expected their names maybe to be called out, and then they called my name. And, the Colonel had left word that, "That soldier should never go to the front," which is a wild situation. And, so the man in charge of putting together a band and the Colonel hid my records. And, it looked like I would have been at the front and disappeared some way because she got letters. One of my mother's friends got a letter, "Deceased," written on my envelope. And you got what?

IB: A letter from the Army asking what was his address the last time that I had heard from him, and did I know where he was and so forth. So, I don't know. If you don't know where he is (laughter), how am I supposed to know where he is?

SS: And, this is because they pulled your record --

IB: Pulled the record.

SS: -- and wanted to keep you in the band, and away from the front. Is that right?

DB: Yeah, and they hid that record for a long time. So --

IB: I guess until after the war.

DB: Pretty good, yeah. A lot of things happened that are unbelievable. To be not sent to the front because the Colonel, who became a general, was not going to allow me to get hurt -- or not hurt, but not at the front.

SS: Well, he must have seen a lot of value in having a band that could go around and entertain the troops. Is that the role that your band played? And, how did the players -- did they just get selected from different units and come together? Did you select the musicians? How did the band kind of emerge? And, what was your mission, I guess?

DB: One of the guys that got out of that line was Attilio Capra, a trumpet player. And, he had come -- we had been together from the band in California. And then, as a soldier got injured, they had come back. We were right behind the front.

And, if, they'd always say, "What did you do in civilian life?" if they said "musician," they'd say, "Well, you've got to go talk to Brubeck." And, my band started mostly with guys that had been shot.

One guy, my alto player, brought back a wounded soldier, and they questioned him and said, "How long have you been at the front?" and he said, "Since D-Day, over three months now." And they said, "You don't have to stay that long. Don't you know that you're allowed to come back to rest?" and he said, "No. No one ever told me."

And they said, "Well, you were a saxophonist?" and he said, "Yes." And they said, "Go see Dave Brubeck, and tell him your story." That was my lead alto man. My lead trumpet player, his jeep had been blown up, and his hand injured. So, he had to always play trumpet with his one finger. He had to learn how to finger it again. And then, there was "Wire Arm" Sansone who had been shot in the arm, and had a wire holding his arm together. So, they didn't send him back. And, he played in my band.

SS: And, there was one player who was notable in that, he was an African American, Dick Flowers.

DB: Yeah. SS: And, notable because he was African American because the units themselves at that time were segregated according to race. Yet he was playing in your band, and you all became basically an integrated band. Did that cause you any problems with the fact that the fighting units were segregated, yet you had African Americans and Caucasians in your Wolf Pack Army Band?

DB: Yeah. He was the first black, African American, to be in a basically white unit. So, we integrated World War II. And, the Colonel, who absolutely wanted me to have Dick Flowers -- and he would go to bat if anybody said he can't be there. He outranked them, and he said he's going to be there.

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