At 72, combat veteran Gary Lemos still remembers the struggle of surviving and battling in the Vietnam theater.
After coming back to the states from the battlefield, Lemos was able to pursue his passion to be a musician; a brass player to be exact.
Lemos was in Vietnam from March 27, 1967.
As an 0311, a rifleman in the Marines, Lemos ended up in the 28th Regiment Marine Band, as a 5543.
The 5500 signifies a person as a musician, and the 43 classified him as a baritone horn player.
“The 5th Marine Division Band was huge,” said Lemos. “They had brand new instruments. We did all the parades. They flew us to Oregon and Washington State.”
Being in the band was a recruitment tool by the Marines, commented Lemos.
“They could see us in our dress-blues.”
Lemos was trained as a youngster in the Redlands Unified School District.
When he was summoned for an audition at Camp Pendleton, Lemos was aptly prepared.
“They put up all the [John Philip] Sousa marches,” said Lemos. “It was kind of elementary level.”
The audition included “Joyce’s 71st New York Regimental March” which Lemos found challenging.
In musicians’ jargon, the song was a “cold read.” It was the first time that he had seen the piece of music.
“It has a really difficult beginning,” said Lemos.
“I was really good at sight-reading and scales. I whizzed through that, and the guy said that I passed the audition. I breezed through it.”
Lemos played his audition on a baritone.
As an accomplished brass player, Lemos performed with musicians that had bachelor’s degrees or played with jazz bands, in New Orleans.
Near the end of his time in the Marine Corps, Lemos was sent to a post band, in Quantico, Va. He had to replace a new baritone player who had to be sent home.
One of the memorable performances for Lemos was the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.
“It was so long,” said Lemos.
“Another huge parade was in Seattle,” said Lemos. “It was the SeaFair Parade.
“The cool thing about that parade was the float that was behind us and the vehicle that was in front of that float. Bob Hope was in the car, and Dorothy Lamour was on the float.
“It was neat seeing them. She was still beautiful.”
As Lemos marched in the parades, he understood that he was the only one in the band that had combat experience, which gave the patriotic songs he performed a special significance.
“I knew what they really meant and of the sacrifices of the Marines that got killed.”
While playing in small rural towns in Oregon, Lemos said that he and his bandmates were treated well.
The citizens would feed the soldiers for free and take them to the American Legion.
“They were very patriotic,” said Lemos. “They were grateful.”
After performing with Marine Band in Oregon, Camp Pendleton, Virginia and Washington State, Lemos eventually left the Marines in 1970.
“I’m still here,” said Lemos. “I didn’t lose a finger or a leg. It was one miracle after another, every day.”
Lemos proudly wears a Vietnam Veteran U.S. Marines cap that has “E” Co. 2/1, 1st Mar. Div., Vietnam 67-68.
On his cap there are two purple hearts and a host of combat ribbons.
Do you know any veterans?
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