Army bandsman entertained the troops
MONTGOMERY – When World War I got going, Herbert Calvin Harman along with a friend at Montgomery did the patriotic thing and enlisted in the Army. They didn’t march in the infantry or shoot the artillery. Instead, the twosome hoped to qualify for the Army Band.
The veteran’s daughter, Shirley Harman Rydell of Hingham, Maine, is unable to recall the name of her dad’s friend, but she is clear about the account. “Both were musicians; my dad played the piano and his friend’s talent was with the clarinet. The two friends went to the registration center and shared their idea. An audition was scheduled with a specialized recruiter in charge of musicians,” she said.
It happened that Harman’s friend was the first to play. The recruiter loved it and asked if his friend (Harman) was as good a clarinet player as him. The friend responded with, “Oh, he’s twice as good.” The recruiter responded affirmatively saying, “Okay, you’re both in.” In a hurry, Harman the pianist learned to play the clarinet. “It’s good Dad had a pretty good grasp of music,” the daughter said.
After having a custom-tailored uniform made, he and his friend spent the war touring U.S. military posts with the Army Band. They played at shows for the troops, like the USO would entertain during WWII.
The daughter shared that, “I still have his uniform. I dressed in it at Halloween, stuffed my hair in the hat and painted a mustache on my face. Now that I’m in my eighties, I’ve sort of cooled it on that.”
Herbert Harman grew up in Montgomery where he was valedictorian of his graduating class. At the time, the local high school had only three years of classes. So, for a fourth year, he went to Muncy and there too finished first in his class.
Following his military discharge, the veteran went to business school in Williamsport. His furthered education was put to good use as he spent many years as bookkeeper for the J. C. Decker leather manufacturer in Montgomery.
While studying at Williamsport, he met his future wife, Amy Mitchell. The daughter said, “Mother came from Milesburg to attend nursing school at Williamsport. Like many girls’ schools, mixers were held as a respectable way for young ladies to meet young men.”
The couple married and moved into a house constructed by Herbert’s father Calvin Harman. However, when baby Shirley was about to make her appearance into the world, Amy Harman went back to Milesburg where her mother oversaw the birth. The daughter concluded, “That was a common practice at the time.” She added that, “Not long ago, I traveled there to locate my maternal grandparents’ home. The nice old Victorian house is now a home for funerals. The owner gave me a tour and I was able to stand in the room where I was born.”
Returning to thoughts of her childhood, the daughter recalled her veteran father used his musical skills by playing in Montgomery’s Little German Band. “I don’t know where they performed, but he took me with him to practices. I loved the huge bass tuba. When WWII happened, suddenly all things German became unpopular, apparently including the Little German Band. I guess they found other things to do,” she said.
Of her paternal grandparents, both James ‘Calvin’ and wife Cordelia “Alice” Miller Harman, had taught in one-room schools before going into the business of building homes.
“Grandpa Cal built the house I grew up in at 21 Kinsey Street, plus the Harman homestead with the stone wall at the corner of Main and Penn Streets. Both I imagine were built in the 1890’s,” Shirley said.
Additional memories of her Grandpa Harman were, “He played the violin which came from Germany. Later, I took lessons on it, then my daughter and grandson. I don’t know how dad and his sister Marguerite learned to play the piano, but they did,” she said.
Reportedly Herbert Harman was extremely sociable. The daughter recalls he laughed a lot and joined everything. He was commander of the Bower-Decker American Legion Post, the 40 & 8, member of the Muncy Historical Society and went through the chairs at the Masonic Temple. The veteran was a longtime financial secretary at the Lutheran Church and served on Borough council.
A town event held one-time only, was a summer when the men scheduled a donkey baseball game. The informant explained the way it worked was that “Players stood on the ground to bat, and after scoring a hit, jumped on a donkey and rode to first base. Staying on the animal, he rode around the bases. It pleased the crowd.”.
Another local event occurred in 1937 with the 50-year celebration of Montgomery Borough. Harman, considered somewhat an artist, designed the officially adopted logo. He also painted landscapes and did a bit of cartooning.
Many were Harman’s friends and included among them were Ira Kuntz, Patsy (Lawrence) Henderson, Burch Burchfield and George Miller, the latter his boss at J.C. Decker.
Herbert died on Feb 9, 1972. The veteran and his wife, Amy, are interred in Fairview Cemetery on a hill at the edge of his native Montgomery.