The Century Bombers

By Irving (Irv) Waterbury

The Century Bombers, the 100th’s own band, became famous in the E.T.O., often fulfilling engagements off the base. We remember them best for the dance music they played. Some members came and went as missions were completed; others were constant, including Irv Waterbury, a prime mover in organizing and maintaining the band, and now the Group’s co-chairman.
Horace L. Varian

When I came to AAF Station 139 in October 1943, I heard there was at least the beginnings or nucleus of a band. However, not much interest seemed evident. The Special Services Officer at that time was in charge of the band, but, as we all do, he concentrated on his first love, athletics. I do not remember this officer’s name.

I soon made contact with the band, hoping to get "in" as a singer. It was at this time I was most fortunate to meet the basic organizer of the band, the man most responsible for its being, Pfc. Art Woodgate. He informed me that the band was not in the slightest need of singers, but did need musicians, horn players and music-arrangements ("charts"). But Woody, as he was called, also was very kind to me. I had played a clarinet in high school, and not too well, but the fingering is similar to a sax, a sax man was what they needed. Art (Woody) actually spent three months with me in a room of the Big Top (the enlisted men’s club), which we called the band room, teaching me to play the sax, every night from seven to about eleven o’clock. Finally one of my greatest day arrived. Woody asked me to go on the job with the band.

After a month in the band, Woody mentioned that as I was singing with the Base Octet, and several of the members were officers, maybe I could go to one of them and present the sorry state of the band, with its need for organization. With the love of the band in my heart, I spoke to Captain Varian (who else), who was singing in the Octet. (Other members were Major Red Bowman, Captain Paul Mackessy, Lt. George Morgan, Lt. John Knapp, Lt. Paul Mitchell, Sgt. Bob Frederick, Sgt. Tom Horak, Sgt. Bob Williams, Sgt. Chris Christensen and myself)

Captain Varian was exceedingly kind and understanding. He took me to present my story to Major Standish. The Major was also quite understanding and asked if I knew of an officer who would be interested in leading the band. At that time I worked for (then) Lt. John Williams and knew he’d played drums in nite-clubs around New York. I recommended him and subsequently he was appointed band director and the great organization, The Century Bombers, came into being.

I believe Colonel Fred Sutterlin gave us his blessing, allowing us the usual dress of open shirts, officer "pink" jackets and G.I. pants, with no insignia. We all looked like privates. Williams was magnificent! We had all the horns redone in London, we saved our money from the jobs and put it into the kitty for an electric guitar for the HOSE - (Jose Benedicto, base S-2). PA systems were a must. We’d just gotten the services of the finest Big Band singer in the ETO (including Johnny Desmond), our great Mike Londra. We bought three mikes and a P.A. system. Soon the girls were actually swooning at the bandstand when Mike sang "I’ll Remember April." Eddy Dolezal, communications chief for Mal Couter of the 350th, assembled all electrical paraphernalia and did a superb job. Jim Anstett of the 84th Service Group designed and made all of the Century Bombers’ stands. It was truly a love affair. All of the guys went on pass together, splitting up only when they headed for a tea as some church social in London! But when they called "Dis is Diss," all the band guys got off the train.

The greatest accomplishment was the organization of the band by Willie Williams. With the wonderful sympathetic help of Colonel Utely, we got a band hut; we were allowed to have a bit of chow after the officer’s Tea Dances on Sundays. We played for the First Four Graders Club at the Big Top on varying Saturdays, the lower graders club on alternate Saturdays, and the Red Cross on Wednesdays.

Our first trip off the base was four or six week trip selling War Bonds. Our fine driver was Sgt. Ray Baze. We played in London. Then the trio and rhythm section of the Century Bombers made a broadcast from Rainbow Corner in London, announced by the BBC’s great Cecil Madden. The song "Rainbow Corners," a tribute to the well known place and written by Bo Williams of Cleveland and Herb Leventhal of the Bronx. Records were made of that broadcast and I have possibility the only remaining record. I have written the BBC to obtain other copies, but they indicate all records were lost or destroyed. To prove that we were in great company that day at Rainbow Corners, the other performers were sailors of the old Artie Shaw Band, under the direction of the late, great Sam Donahue. Century Bomber performers that day were; Woodgate, Baker, Brubaker, Craft, and Waterbury.

We played at fighter bases, other bomber air fields and had Battles-of-the Bands with competing Air Force entries, one of which I remember was the "Flying Yanks." No one had a singer like our Mike Londra. Later we had a change in the sax section: Woody went to back to his horn, the trumpet, and we moved in a young, curly-haired dude from Boston to alto sax. The Band never again had a horn player like that man, whom you may remember as Lt. Danny Shaffer. My pal Danny! Clara and I still see him and his wife, Gert, on our trips to Boston.

John Williams was somehow able to hock cases of that great Birmingham beer to the band hut for "payment" after officer dances. I think one night 16 men polished off 14 cases. But that didn’t compare with the night Willey Made Captain. The beer flowed endlessly.

Posted in my den is the Special Order authorizing our last trip together as a Band, sending us to – London and Aldershot, Hants on TDY for app. Three (3) days for purpose of COCO Qtrs. (All band personnel were listed) by order of Colonel Wallace – dated 21 July 45 and signed by one Major Claude L. Hosford, Jr., Adjutant.

That was the beginning of the end or was it the end of the beginning? ----- Irv Waterbury