The Boys in the Band

Ombudsman

January 30, 1994|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

It has been 64 years since Gerard E. Lynch. a 17-year-old mellophonist in a green and gold band uniform, played ''Stars and Stripes Forever'' on the Eastern Shore, in Western Maryland, in Virginia, ''everywhere they wanted us.''

''I don't know how many times I marched up and down Howard Street playing music,'' said Mr. Lynch. In those days Howard Street was Baltimore's big mall and the Evening Sun Newsboys Band filled the shopping corridor with music.

When the boys played, ''Stars and Stripes Forever'' was always the sign-off. When it rained, out came the special raincoats with flaps to protect instruments. When summer came, out came the blue uniforms. When there was a concert or a parade, out came a story in The Evening Sun.

''Oh, what a time,'' he says of his six years as bandsboy.

Gerry Lynch, now 81 with white hair hinting at the old redhead, spent six happy years with the band. His instrument resembled a French horn. His little face appears smack dab in the middle of his 60 comrades in his now-yellowed programs of the late 1920's.

The other day in North Baltimore, he recalled, with an Irish smile that couldn't disappear, his strong feeling that the band saved his life.

Mr. Lynch had just read last week's column here on the 70th anniversary of the Three Rivers boat fire that killed 10, including five band members July 4, 1924.

''Two months later, in September, a man asked me to join the band to replace one of the five boys killed. I didn't know any of the dead boys. But I was 11 years old, and for the next six years I had the time of my life. I delivered the three Sunpapers then, too.''

When he was 17, he left the band and the papers. A dozen years passed. Mr. Lynch was drafted in the Army and trained to go to Europe with a field artillery unit. Then someone discovered that he had once played in a band. Mr. Lynch was transferred.

He wanted no part of it. ''They were a bunch of college kids. I thought they were pills. I was trained in the field artillery. Who wants to get up extra early in the morning to play music for soldiers?'' But, ''in the Army you do what you're told.''

''We wound up in Europe as the Allied Forces Headquarters Army Ground Force Band No. 203. We went to Italy, played in hospitals and parades. Later, I learned that my old buddies in my field artillery outfit really got it bad. They were hit hard, many were killed.''

Mr. Lynch, a widower, considers his life a happy one. ''It started with the band and delivering papers. I've been blessed. I've had two good marriages, two good wives, two good children, two good grandchildren and two good mothers-in-law. Imagine, two good mothers-in-law.''

He wasn't the only reader moved by events recalled in last Sunday's story. It helped close the circle on some family legends, said G. Norman Dreisch, of Fallston, who teaches mathematics at Essex Community College and runs a bed and boat place near St. Michaels.

''I never knew the Three Rivers story. My brothers and I knew that my father, also Norman, saved my Uncle John from drowning once in a big boating accident. My dad was 15, my uncle was 11 but couldn't swim. Dad helped Uncle John to a rescue boat.

''We also knew that my dad and uncle were both Sunpapers newsboys and played in the Newsboys Band in the 1920s. Dad never talked much about it when he was a kid, so we never put things together until last Sunday's story. We never realized they were survivors of the Three Rivers accident. Your story brought tears to my eyes. It gave our mother, Teresa, the chance to fill in some details. Otherwise my two brothers, Tom and Rick, and I might never have known. Thanks.''

There was an eerie element to the awakening. Once, 21 years ago, Mr. Dreisch took his two boys, Michael and David, crabbing. A storm came up, the three were tossed out. They hung on to the overturned boat until rescued. The scene was near Cove Point on the Chesapeake, close to the site of the Three Rivers fire.

Ernest F. Imhoff is The Sun's reader representative.

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