From the interview with Eugene D. Vacher of El Cajon, CA conducted by Patience Rogge by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on November 17, 2009. Mr. Vacher served at Fort Worden after World War II as the leader of the post band. He composed the Port Townsend Centennial March while stationed here. Much later in his career, Mr. Vacher was assigned to Europe, where he was able to take advantage of the French language skills he had acquired as a child:
“When I first got to Orleans, they told me that the band didn’t go outside the post. Within two weeks, we had the festival of the Maid of Orleans (Jeanne d’Arc) and the French Army had to request the use of the band. The general sent me to attend the briefing session. It was in an upstairs room where all the Frenchmen were gabbling, and I was very interested in what was going on. Some I could understand and some I couldn’t, I remember that a lot of people in Orleans were speaking with a very African accent, they were murdering the French language. I was sitting there watching and listening to what was going on and knowing exactly within a few minutes exactly what I was going to have to find out from them. The major who had accompanied me as a translator turned to me and said,’Do you know what they’re talking about?’ I said, ‘Sure, I do.’ I made all the arrangements for the band to play. The next day the colonel called and said that he wouldn’t have to send anybody to translate for me after this. He said, ’You go and make the arrangements and see that everything is right for the band no matter where you have to go.’
That was my assignment and I took advantage of it. I drove to every one of those places that we were going to play, as soon as I got the information. Every time I got there it was either the mayor’s office or whoever was the head of the state or province, and I was the welcome guy with the wine and cookies at the beginning of the conference. I made all the arrangements. For some of the conferences, we had to arrange for meals and accommodations and everything. That was my business from then on for three and a half years, and I had a ball!
It was a wonderful duty for me at a time when duty became a privilege for me. We dedicated a cemetery in London, England. We dedicated the cemeteries in Brittany and Normandy, and one in southern France and northern France. I found out the real story of the southern invasion, which was almost more of a bloody invasion than the northern one. We lost more men in southern France in the invasion than we did in Normandy. It was an eye opener. Then we went down to Anzio in Italy and dedicated a cemetery there.
I think that was probably one of the outstanding military duties that I enjoyed other than Fort Worden. Mary (whom he later married) would go in a store shopping for clothes and I would sit on a bench in the park. Inevitably somebody would sit beside me and start a conversation. I had innumerable conversations with very intelligent people. We went over reasons why we had difficulties in France and why they thought one way and we thought another….I could never be like the major we had who went into his quarters in Orleans and never left them, not even to go out visiting anybody.”