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Bill Riehl's Last Gig

by Sid Harrison ETCM(SS) USN(Ret)
23 August 1999 
A few PH images from Bill's WWII Days   ||   US Navy Pacific Fleet Band  (PDF format)

The fellow I mentioned HERE was Bill Riehl, a former WWII Navy Musician with the PacFleet Band. He died in April 1999 at the age of 82.   He and his wife, like every winter, had been traveling in their big camper, leaving in November and returning in late March. This year they didn't come home. We thought he had stayed over with one of his kids, something they had occasionally done in the past. He died in a hospice in San Diego.

He was a good neighbor and a friend and yes I will miss those early morning phone calls with that trumpet blasting my ear doing reveille or Anchors Away.

I'm glad he gave me his Pearl Harbor log book last year. In that little dog-eared book, with the yellowed pages falling out, are dates and names of World War II boats he played for. Names all of us would recognize as boats that survived - and names of boats whose crews are on eternal patrol. The last sounds of home those lost crews probably heard was Bill Riehl and his fellow band members playing them off as they went to do great things.


Bill did six years in the Navy which included the two years at Pearl. At that time six years was a mandatory enlistment term for Navy musicians and you had to be a pro just to be considered for it. In addition to playing for the Submarine sailors at Pearl Harbor he did island-hopping with small combos to entertain the troops as the islands, one-by-one, were secured by the Marines. Finally wrapping up his enlistment back in DC as an instructor at the Musician School, he was discharged in 1947.

He was a great road-house jazz/swing trumpet guy. He had left home at fifteen and went on the road with his trumpet and must have played every joint up and down New York state from the early 1930s into the 1960s. He still had his chops at the age of 80.

After completing his education at Crane School of Music, here in Potsdam, NY, he taught in a local public school until retirement. When not teaching and running his little farm, he continued to play local dance halls and gin mills until the dance halls all disappeared and the music changed.

There's a lot more to say about Bill Riehl and I see the makings of another web page here - at least that's my intent. His widow has a box of his Navy memorabilia and I want to see if there are any photos of the Royal Hawaiian, the Beer Garden and sights around Pearl in there. Bill loved those times at the PH Beer Garden and often reminisced about either playing and entertaining or just getting soused with the boat sailors. He once remarked that in DC he always felt like he had to cover his Musician's crow but never with the boat guys in Pearl. He liked the sub sailors because there was never any flak and they knew how to party. Bill always loved a party. I doubt if he had to cover his crow with the Marines in New Guinea or the Marshalls or Guam either.

Right now, in Heaven, I bet he's playing "One O'Clock Jump", "Take The 'A' Train" or maybe one of the Woody Herman arrangements for all those lost crews. I sure hope they allow beer up there. Bill liked his beer.

Damn I miss the guy but I'm sure St. Peter appreciates having another good horn man.