Budd Brown of Port Charlotte, Fla. fought the Korean War with a saxophone in his hand. He serve as a member of the 2nd Platoon, 10th Special Services Company, 8th Army from January 1952 until February 1953.
“We had a 30-man unit that included a big band, a couple of singers and a couple of comedians—an all-male show. When we got to Korea, our unit was sent up to the 40th Division along the Demilitarized Zone,” he recalled. “There were nine Army divisions in Korea and we did two or three shows a day. We stayed with each division for a month.
When they opened their first routine in January, the group was flying by the seat of its pants. However, when their second show opened in May, they had rehearsed and polished their routine.
“The guys sang, the guys danced, the guys told some jokes and the band played music. Stuff like Glenn Miller’s ‘String of Pearls’ and Goodman’s ’Don’t Be That Way,’” he said. “We called the band ‘Road to Ruin’ because when the guys got five days leave and went to Tokyo for a little R & R, they came back to the front with all kinds of diseases and problems.”
When he wasn’t playing sax in the band, Brown and his buddy, Harry Fallon of Jersey City, N.J., who now lives in Lakeland, would come on stage and do a two-man stand-up comedy routine. Wearing yellow and green zoot suits with purple hats accented by yellow hat bands the two 20-year-olds did their thing.
“We did a show for a MASH unit one day. A helicopter flew in with a soldier who was all shot up,” Brown said. “They cut off his leg and had him bandaged up and sitting in he front row in a wheelchair for our second show. We tried to make him laugh, but couldn’t.”
Despite the fact he and the men of the 2nd Platoon were musicians and entertainers, they had their problems with enemy forces at the front from time to time.
“At Sokcho Ri in Smoke Valley, it was an 8-mile-long valley with mountains on both sides and a single dirt road down the center. Our heavy artillery was up and down the valley shooting at the North Koreans.
“We drove in to do two shows aboard eight trucks. As we were on our way out aboard the trucks, the smoke lifted in the valley and a North Korean artillery spotter saw us. Moments later the enemy started shooting at us,” he said.
“We had to jump off the trucks and find the lowest spot to hide until the incoming fire stopped. They didn’t hit us, but they came pretty close. We did that three times before we got out of the valley.
That was my big combat story,” Brown said.
Then there was the time their unit flew into Cheju Island at the south tip of South Korea aboard a C-47 transport plane. This was the island where the United Nations forces kept 55,000 North Korean and Chinese POWs.
“The day we arrived, the prisoners captured the commanding American general of the POW camp on the island. The prisoners complained their food was bad and the general and a couple of guards walked into a stockade with thousands of enemy POWs and were immediately taken prisoner themselves,” he said.
“Then the POWs started making demands. They wanted to be released immediately and returned to North Korea. A bunch of the 2nd Division combat veterans were sent to encircle the POW stockade. Every third or fourth American soldier had a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and the rest had M-1 rifles. Up on the hill around the compound we also had quad 50-caliber machine-guns trained down on the enemy prisoners,” Brown said.
“The POWs were told after they were encircled by American forces with a lot of fire power, ‘We want the general back immediately, or we’re just going to blow the hell out of you.’ They released him immediately,’ Brown said.
“I figured when I got out of the service I’d get a job with a big band and that’s what I’d do the rest of my life. But when I got out television was coming of age and big bands were out.”
Budd is still playing music. He plays every Wednesday night at the Holiday Inn in Punta Gorda with Tim Goodman.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Sept. 8, 2003 and is republished with permission.
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Budd Brown’s mother was pretty sharp.
Young Budd wanted to play the trumpet, but the school band needed clarinet players. So she hatched a plan to take her son to a show in New York.
The lights dimmed, the curtain went up, and Woody Herman strode out, playing the clarinet. Budd was starstruck.
“Wouldn’t you like to do that?” his mom asked. “Damn right, I would,” he said.
The rest is a little bit of music history. Bruce “Budd” Brown would spend the rest of his life playingwoodwinds — clarinets and saxophones — and performing for audiences in Europe and the U.S.
He would work with big names like Bob Hope, Bob Newhart and Marvin Hamlisch. He would play with Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus; Liberace; and the Ice Capades. He would play with friends well into retirement, jamming on the tenor sax.
Along the way, he would pack in enough laughs to fill eight decades and then some. Brown, a Kissimmee resident, died June 23 of emphysema. He was 83.
“He was a fun, fun guy,” said his wife, De Carter Brown. “He just knew how to have a good time.”
More often than not, that involved music. After learning to play as a boy, Brown continued in the service, playing for troops during the Korean War. After that, he played in bands around New York before moving to Palm Beach in 1960.
He became a fixture on the party circuit and regularly sat in when touring celebrities needed to fill out their back-up bands. It meant a lot of late nights, but his wife said that was the life of a musician.
“We didn’t share a New Year’s Eve for the first seven years we were together, because he was working,” she said. “But we’d have a big blowout party New Year’s Day, with Bloody Marys all around and ribs on the grill.”
Brown preferred smooth, classic jazz and had a knack for helping others hear a piece of music with new ears. His wife, who likes classical music and jazz, said spending time with him “was an education.”
“It was amazing what I didn’t know,” she said. “He really taught me to appreciate music.”
Brown also had a head for numbers. A business major at Rutgers University, he started a small advertising firm with his wife in the 1970s to augment the money he made playing gigs.
“He was good that way,” his wife said. “I’m OK today because he made sure everything was paid for.”
Prudent but no prude, Brown read a story about Cypress Cove — Osceola County’s nudist community — sometime around his 60th birthday. By the time he was 61, he had persuaded his wife to relocate from Palm Beach, so the two of them could enjoy life au naturel. They bought a house in Cypress Cove in 1991.
“He’d seen something in the paper about the largest number of nude people in a pool,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh God, here we go.’ ”
He adopted Kissimmee as his own, making friends and playing music — the way he always did.
“He packed a lot of living in his time,” his wife said. “It was a wild ride.”
In addition to his wife, Brown is survived by his son, Chris Brown of Jupiter; a stepdaughter, Ahngela Eggers of Winston-Salem,N.C.; sister Ginger Von Holden of Port Charlotte; brother Raymond Brown of New York; and five grandchildren.
Conrad &Thompson Funeral Home in Kissimmee is handling arrangements.