This is not a tale worthy of comparison to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the Bermuda Triangle mystery, or the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, dead or alive. It is, however, a true story about an entire 15-piece U.S. Navy band that for a nine-month period was able to vanish for weeks at a time. This phenomenon occurred aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet during a ‘round the world cruise during the Korean War.

Only a ship as large and as venerable as an aircraft carrier would merit having a military band on board. Perhaps a battleship would be entitled to a band, if any battleships are still around. In this instance, the Hornet was sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific, “showing the flag” in a dozen or so ports. As the ship docked, with local dignitaries assembled on the pier, the band would play “Anchors Aweigh” (proofreaders note: not “Away”), then our National Anthem, followed by the national anthem of the port being visited. I have since wondered who was awarded the assignment of assembling the national anthems of Portugal, Spain, Ceylon, and several other ports of call.

After the above trio of tunes, the band would be dismissed and its members would disappear through a passageway, not to be seen or heard from until the next stop. And I mean disappear! No sign of any of the band members at any of the daily meals, reading in the ship’s library, exercising on deck, mailing a package at the ship’s postoffice, or at religious services.

How can 15 sailors – one with a tuba to conceal, another with a bass drum – vanish into thin air for weeks at a time? Some of us even listened for ghostly sounds from the bowels of the ship as the band presumably practiced the anthem of the Philippines or the anthem of whoever owned Hong Kong at the time.

Once, while on the open sea, there was a high line transfer from destroyer to the Hornet. That’s where a line is strung between the two vessels and the transferee is hoisted from one ship to the other in a boatswain’s (BO-sun’s) chair. The accompaniment, you guessed it, was “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

The last time I saw the phantom band was the day we completed our circumnavigation. Scores of greeters had walked to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge to watch the Hornet pass under. The band was playing mightily “Anchors Aweigh,” and although I didn’t know it then, the biggest adventure of my life was coming to an end. Think flight operations aboard a carrier. Think launching and retrieval action during the opening credits of “Top Gun.”

So to the 15 members of that ethereal group, thanks for the music and the smile I can conjure up whenever I think of them. Good night, wherever you are.

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