My grandfather, who passed away before I was born in the late Fifties, is the subject of these passages from my father’s recollection of our family history:
I’m sure you already know that Grandpa Smith traveled the RKO Keith vaudeville circuit during the 1920’s as part of a Hawaiian music troupe featuring his then wife Princess and her supposed brother, Willie. Dad was a sideman, providing ukulele rhythm accompaniment for the act. Back in the day, he was a petty decent uke player. He developed a stroke that was unique in that it infallibly controlled the tempo during a song. He helped cement the musical sound of the entire group. The several times I heard him play were long after he’d lost most of his chops. It was obvious, however, that at one time he was certainly quite good.
Dad served in the military during WW1, but as far as I know he was never involved in any action. He played saxophone in the post band, and usually the guys in band detail never see combat. The story Dad always told, however, was that he was actually in G2, the equivalent of the Secret Service, and the band was just a cover up for this other more important work. There’s really no way to verify this, but it certainly provided Dad with many good story telling opportunities. I wish I could remember some of them.
[Leonard Smith (on far left) during WWI]
I should mention that I noticed one time when someone nearby who we didn’t know started taking pictures of their friends that could have inadvertently involved us, Dad instantly turned his head away from the camera. Later I asked him why he did that. He seemed a little embarrassed as he explained that in G2 he was trained to avoid having his picture taken, especially if he was working undercover, and it had become a reflex action.
True or made up? I really don’t know. Out of all this, the only thing I can be sure of regarding Dad’s military career is that he was definitely in a band, because I have photos!