War Journal Memories

The day we saluted

‘The Beer Barrel Polka’


The mighty Fifth Armored Division, of which I was a member, moved from Pine Camp, New York, to Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania, about the middle of December 1943. We moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, around February 1, 1944, before sailing for England on February 10. So, this incident happened in late December 1943 or early January 1944:

I was in Headquarters troop of the 85th Ren En of the Fifth Armored Division. Our barracks faced toward the Division headquarters, some quarter-mile away down camp.

Retreat was held each afternoon at 5 p.m. The Division band at Division headquarters would play a series of numbers, then play "The Star Spangled Banner" for retreat. Of course, we could hear the band from our location.

On that day, a "90-day Wonder" (2nd Lt.) was in charge of retreat. The whistle was blown and our company fell out, lined up in front of our barracks. We are "At Ease", waiting for retreat.

Among songs played by the band was "The Beer Barrel Polka." As It started up, the Lt. called the company to attention and "Present Arms." We then saluted the music of "The Beer Barrel Polka."

After its playing, we were dismissed. The men made a dive for the barracks, laughing because we had saluted "The Beer Barrel Polka." Some got inside and some were still outside when the band did play "The Star Spangled Banner." Those outside had to turn and salute again to "The Star Spangled Banner."

The company got a big kick out of having to salute a polka. Some 55 years later, I still remember the day. I sometimes wonder if we were the only American unit in World War II to salute "The Beer Barrel Polka."

(Leister Presley’s "World War II Scrapbook" may be found in the 1995 White County Heritage and other recollections in subsequent issues. )