Conducted by Logan Wilson
April 20, 2011
Mr. Wilson: April 20th, 2011, I am in the home of Mr. Zeno King. And the next voice you hear is going to be that of Mr. King’s. It’s all yours.
Zeno King: Well I was born in Mexia, Texas, January the 16th, 1919. And my dad was born there in 1884. So we have quite ??? Of Mexia ??? With ??? Also was choir director at the Presbyterian Church in Mexia for a few years. ???
Mr. Wilson: Can you tell me which branch of the service and Division you were in?
Mr. King: This was the 83rd Infantry Division ??? And just before the first of November, we began getting trains of loads of brand new draftees, recruits, one train after another for assignments ??? with the Division from Camp Atterbury, Indiana. ??? Maneuvers in Tennessee in 1943 ??? all day long out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean by ourselves, I was really worried, ??? morning we woke up right in the center of what turned out to be ??? The other half of the band ??? On top of each other til daylight where we could see something. And England is almost a blurr in memory for me. We were only there for ??? We had a big review somewhere ??? in groups units
Mr. Wilson: What was the relationship between you guys and the British people themselves?
Mr. King: Great far as I know, we didn’t have much to do with the British people, except on Saturday nights. We would have both of our dance bands working. And ??? for this thing and I think ??? Over paid, over sexed, and over here. You’ve heard that before probably?
Mr. Wilson: Yeah! Is that true?
Mr. King: When the war was over, we were the closest division in Europe to Berlin. We were part of the last battle over there and we were the only division to establish a bridge head across??? from the Rhine River east to the Elbe and we crossed the Rhine and our duty there was to guard assets and they were going through these little towns along the way and they ordered the Burgomasters, who was the mayor, the lead elements would do this, I had nothing to do with this, and they’d give orders and they’d bring weapons, everything you could think of-food ???. Across the Elbe River, a town called ??? We had 2/3 thirds ??? Armor. We was in a race to get there ???and with us. We had been in Berlin for 3 days and ??? the next day. I called all these men back, by the way, by the time we got up there to Barby, which was Division Headquarters on the Elbe River ??? it is over, stand down, stack your weapons-we are finished and I called the band out ??? In Barby, Germany for Division Headquarters and anybody that wanted to come. And I have a picture that was given me, I’ll show it to you in a minute, 30 years later by one of the men who had been a Lieutenant in Division Headquarters. He said “this is you directing your band on V-E Day.” I said “no it’s not”. This is at a reunion we had ??? For a photographer up there ??? a picture of the band, there’s about a third of the band or a fourth of it maybe-shows me directing it.???
Mr. Wilson: Quite some experiences Mr. King.
Mr. King: Ahh we had lots of ‘em. We went to, from ??? When we finished with the prisoner of war thing there, by the way-this received a lot of publicity. One of our recon troops exploring south of the Loire River, we were deployed all the way, I don’t know maybe for a hundred miles, up and down the Loire just scattered everywhere ??? There was a whole German army down there and negotiate a surrender and a Major General Elster, he didn’t want to surrender to a Lieutenant ??? back up and arrange for General Macon, our General,??? On the Loire River and it was the largest surrender of the war. Surrender had 20,000 ??? I was there, I wasn’t part of it, I was just there observing and General Elster surrendered his-handed his pistol to General Macon ???
Mr. Wilson: Surrendered to an equal rank.
Mr. King: That’s right and he did.
Mr. Wilson: He got his pistol back.
Mr. King: ??? And he handed his pistol back. Handed to him with both hands.
Mr. Wilson: I’ve asked Mr. King, everybody that we’ve got a recording on the same question and in different words, they have given me the same answer-everyone of them-it’s amazing. Now I’m going to ask you, I’m anxious to see what you say. If you had one thing to tell the young people of America today, what would it be?
Mr. King: I’d tell them to read, study. Study history because you’re in the process of losing your country right now.
Mr. Wilson: From within.
Mr. King: Within ???
Mr. Wilson: I gave that answer here awhile back when I was interviewed by a TV station on the south steps of our capitol in Austin. Somebody asked me why the Tea Party and why I was involved and I told them “it’s not for me. I want my children and my grandchildren to grow up in the same America with the same liberties under the same Constitution that I did”.
Mr. King: Oh man I’ve had a wonderful life but there’s no chance for these kids now days unless they go back to our US Constitution.
Mr. Wilson: That’s exactly right.
Mr. King: They’ve got to do it and they don’t have much time.
Mr. Wilson: That’s exactly right. We’re at the cusp of a great change. We could become a socialist European state or we could maintain our traditional American values and freedoms.
Mr. King: I want to tell you one other thing about this European experience. We, ah, this was on the order of the 1st of September, I can’t give you a date because I don’t remember. Now remember we were a band but we didn’t have anything to make a band out of, we didn’t have any instruments, ??? loaded on a 40 and 8 boxcar. Did you ever hear of that? World War I they had 40 and 8’s. The French had 40 and 8’s ??? 40 horses and 8 men or 40 men and 8 horses, I’m not sure which, we were loaded on one of those boxcars and we made a 3 or 4 day train ride-all the way to Luxemburg.
Mr. Wilson: That’s where Patton was buried.
Mr. King: That’s right. And we got off this train at Luxemburg and we were assigned quarters in Luxemburg City in a school house. The first night we had spent in Europe under a roof.
Mr. Wilson: Unbelievable
Mr. King: And we were back up to about 40 some odd people by then. We had gotten a few replacements, instrumentalists, from the thousands of replacements that ??? And in about a week when I got word that our instruments were on the continent, back at ?? Where was all just off of Omaha Beach and picked up our instruments. We had a rehearsal or two, we had to repair??? The 4th day ??? Had a review for a free ??? Had the French National Anthem. He said “No I thought you had it”. I said “I’ve never given it a thought.” And luckily we had an arranging staff in the band and a fella by the name of Arthur Laney was the head of it. ??? And Laney had taken this thing down and in about an hour we had what we thought was the lead line to it and he started writing the arrangement for a band arrangement and we had 5 or 6 copiers and just as fast as he could get a page arranged they’d turn out and they’d cut the mark size things out and copy it for the parts. And the next morning we had that thing completed and we loaded the band on the trucks and ??? Backside of that paper ??? Little ??? For the instruments. We never had a chance to rehearse it. We got out and played this parade at a ??? that French National Anthem.
Mr. Wilson: How’d it work?
Mr. King: Oh beautifully. Got a compliment from the Colonel that was the Reviewing Officer. And somewhere in the Army storage files somewhere there’s a manuscript arrangement of the French National Anthem written by Arthur Laney of the 800 Division.
Mr. Wilson: So you guys literally made it up in the field?
Mr. King: In Luxemburg.
Mr. Wilson: You must have done a pretty good job of it because the French
Mr. King: Well I don’t think there was any real problem. I think we got it pretty close.
Mr. Wilson: Yeah?
Mr. King: Yeah. And if we ever played it again, and I’m quite sure we did, I don’t remember.
Mr. Wilson: But at least if you played it again you’d done it before.
Mr. King: Oh yeah, yeah.
Mr. Wilson: So you guys were playing on the piano and humming it and everybody was
Mr. King: No he played the piano, Laney did, Smith and I were going back and forth humming this thing ( starts humming French National Anthem).
Mr. Wilson: Very resourceful.
Mr. King: Yeah. Well you had to be. ???
Mr. Wilson: Wasn’t an option was it? Had to learn how to do it. That’s good.
Mr. King: But that was an interesting time up over there for the war. Smith had lots of points, he was the other band leader and pretty soon he came home. Held a board on me so I spent the summer over there and we got two new band leaders reassigned to us sometime during the summer at Camp Breckenridge had to be before Christmas in 194? The band had a whole barracks full of people there and right next to us was the Division MP’s and right next to them ???. Walked into our little CP one afternoon and Smith was sitting??? From division??? Unit in the ??? And one Non-commissioned officer to attend Army Mine Officer ??? And non-commissioned officers to attend ??? He said “God Almighty don’t make me go to that demolition school-that just scares the hell out of me.” I feel the same way about that stinking poison gas. ?? Our Major was a beautiful guy by the name ??? Smith and one of our French horn players, Staff Sergeant, at this school, we were on detached service to go to that thing of course, and right next to it they had built a chapel. And right beside this chapel ??? a giant firecracker, that’s what we had and if you made a goof and blew the thing up-burned the hell out of ya, maybe shocked you a little but it wouldn’t kill ya. And that’s what we were fooling with were these baby giant firecrackers bout the size of you finger and if you made that goof they’d put your name on that cross in that graveyard.
Mr. Wilson: Did you ever get one?
Mr. King: Spring nor I neither got one but some of these guys had 2 or 3 of them. They wouldn’t put your name twice on the same cross but they’d put another cross up there. Well the second Monday we were there, this Lieutenant and his assistant came in there and they had a-you ever see a block of TNT quarter pound? Well I want to tell you the fun and games are all over. What you see here is a ??? block of TNT. Stands for trinitrotoluene ???. He said “this little block here’s not like that firecracker” said “this blow your arm off-might blow your head off.”
Mr. Wilson: Things got serious.
Mr. King: Yeah. And he said “like I said the fun and games are over.” And we started with the real thing ??? Anyway we were give a new MOS number, that’s a Military Occupational Specialty, and I became a mine ??? Spring and I were detached from the 83rd Division band for a month and we taught it all over the division and every Monday we’d start off with a new class.??? All this stuff for a week and on Friday afternoon we’d have a demonstration and??? And you take these ¼ pound blocks, you’d put 4 of them together??? Just tape them together and you’ve got a one pound block.
Mr. Wilson: You could blow the hell out of everything around you.
Mr. King: And you’d take-you ever see a little brass cap?
Mr. Wilson: Yeah.
Mr. King: You put it in the end of each one of these blocks and they’re about ¼ inch and you take this little brass cap and stick it in that hole and the end of the brass cap of course is hollow. And it’s very sensitive explosive, the heat in your hand, if you hold it long enough, will set that thing off. That’s nitro and you put a fuse in that thing and the fuse burns and also they had a rope looked like come in a reel just like rope and you could set off a whole row of them, and tie them together, all together and bang, bang, bang you’d have to blow the whole thing up.
Mr. Wilson: ??? Time to do that,
Mr. King: Yes. Yes
Mr. Wilson: Did you ever have to disarm a German mine?
Mr. King: No.
Mr. Wilson: That’d be scary wouldn’t it?
Mr. King: Now I was Safety Officer for Division for the first 2 or 3 weeks we were in Normandy. And ??? Afternoon we moved to Division Headquarters. We’d been on the ground ??? Dud bomb out there, well out front of Division Headquarters, bout this much of the tail sticking out of soft ground and we were ordered to take care of it. So Spring and I rigged the charge, I don’t know how big-6 or 8 pounds, maybe bigger. Cleared the area, put guards around the trees, for 150-200 yards all around this thing and ??? With me. We took this charge up and set it right ???
Mr. Wilson: Knocked a hole in the ground big enough for a man to stand in.
Mr. King: He was over his head in that thing. I have a picture of it. You can look at it. But that was the only serious thing we did.
Mr. Wilson: You think 200 yards was far enough?
Mr. King: Yeah.
Mr. Wilson: It was?
Mr. King: Yeah everybody behind a tree. It was safe. And ???
Mr. Wilson: ???
Mr. King: That charge was ½ inch away from it.
Mr. Wilson: It could have gone off on it’s own.
Mr. King: I had no idea what the fuse on the other end of it I don’t know what city that thing was in.
Mr. Wilson: Good gracious.
Mr. King: Nah we blew it and that was my biggest explosion and we had arguments about it. Whether it was a 250 pound bomb or a 100 pound bomb or a 500 pound bomb and I don’t yet.
Mr. Wilson: It was lethal whatever it was.
Mr. King: Oh it could hurt ya.
Mr. Wilson: It was lethal whatever it was.
Mr. King: But that’s what the infantry did and we were part of an infantry division ??? I tell you my memory it was ???
Mr. Wilson: Where were yall when you heard about General Patton being in that car wreck and later dying?
Mr. King: Down south. We were located in a little town right on the Danube River. called Vilshofan. Well it was just disappointing. We may have played the last review he ever had. I don’t know that. But the review that we played was the 30th or 31st ???
Mr. Wilson: Exactly 12 days after the car wreck he died. How did the men take that?
Mr. King: Well it was just a disappointment to everybody. Yeah. Now his grandson has visited our Division reunions. We will have our 65th reunion next summer.
Mr. Wilson: Are you going?
Mr. King: I’m trying to work it out right now. I’ve been to 20 some odd of them . Wife and I incidentally had our 50th anniversary at an 83rd Division reunion. It was August 19,1989 ??? Get together ???whole crowd of people there. And I was lucky, I had one of the finest bands and a lot of these can be demonstrated with pictures ???
Mr. Wilson: But no recording.
Mr. King: I have no recording and we had for a long time and, got it late, a front page editorial in the paper where the editor of the paper wrote in there ???? This is the best ??? I called and got ahold of a lady in the ??? Had to be in March of 1944 or because shortly after that we went to England. She didn’t find it.
Mr. Wilson: You’re writing a book on your family history. Sitting here listening to you it occurs to me that you should also write a book on your experiences with the band in the military in Europe.
Mr. King: That’s part of it.
Mr. Wilson: You need to do that.
Mr. King: That’s part of it. And part of it is the warrior.
Mr. Wilson: I encourage you to do that.
Mr. King: We have three different history books. Books written about the history of the 83rd Division. The patch is a black and gold triangle and it spells “Ohio” right in the middle of it. I think I’ve got it.
Mr. Wilson: And you say Dick Flatt’s gonna help you with the prepping of it?
Mr. King: Yes he knows about this.
Mr. Wilson: I sure hope that winds up in the local libraries.
Mr. King: Well I haven’t thought about that but it could be I guess. I’m not really interested in publishing an autobiography. Let me go way back. In the first day of marching band rehearsal out there on the practice field in high school, the buildings still there, they have this??? Just about finished with it and I was standing on the front row doing nothing just ??? About a program that they had booked for sometime later and ??? Her name was ??? And I can tell you I never looked anywhere else, not then not since then. ??? Graduated from Mexia High School in May in 19??? Scholarships were available, didn’t have any money,??? Scholarships were available for??? Could I be privileged to try for one of them. Well some time after that ??? this good looking young man got out of the car ??? Well we were sitting in my living room ??? And play it in B flat ??? tuition but not books ??? Like math ??? Had??? Furnish me room and board, they lived two blocks from ??? For $50.00 a month. This would be two meals a day ??? Play in the band??? Would have a job playing in a band called Stan ??? Night club out in ??? Valley ??? And I had a job paying $7.00 on every Saturday night which was enough exactly to meet my room and board. So shortly after that I got another letter saying I had to be in Dallas on a certain date early September for tries in chair positions in the band. You ever play in the band?
Mr. Wilson: Nah my daughter.
Mr. King: First chair, second chair, third chair.
Mr. Wilson: Yeah I know.
Mr. King: Well this was tries for chair position. Brass beginning at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Well I went to Dallas on a bus. Got a streetcar which was the end of the line at SMU, Highland Park streetcar and went out there and somebody showed me where McFarland Auditorium was ??? Walked through the lobby and these two big aisles going down to the stage. Walked down to the stage and this was 1:30. I was ready to climb up on the stage and noticed a group shooting the breeze I guess. I was almost to the top of the stage and one of them broke loose from the bunch and walked up and stuck his hand out and he said “my name’s Earl Platt. What’s yours?” And Earl Platt was the first person I met in Dallas.
Mr. Wilson: In 1938?
Mr. King: 38. And Earl ??? Sometime during that winter of 1938/39 which was my first year ??? Malone, which was Mr. Malone in the beginning, and here all 70 of us in the band. ??? to be on a first name basis ??? Asked me one afternoon after rehearsal ??? we’re going to do a number at our spring concert ??? rehearsal or two and play this program with us ??? And somewhere, I can’t find it, there’s a picture of 70 guys in their uniforms and one girl in a long gown. I’m still trying to find it and I think I can find it ??? I think they’ll have it. Shortly after that I cornered Frank one afternoon and told him that we wanted to get married and come to SMU together. I want to tell you that she’s a championship grade typist. She went to ??? Take shorthand and ??? Dr. Humphrey Lees ??? call me. I need to call her, made an appointment, came down, took a typing test and took the ???
Mr. Wilson: You and Anita had full scholarships.
Mr. King: Full scholarships and Anita became one of the most easily recognizable people in the University ??? And
Mr. Wilson: I’ll be doggone. So skill set. Takes shorthand and fast typist also.
Mr. King: And for the rest of our lives if we were going to the grocery store together and she’d think of something, driving down the street ??? like that. I’d say “what’s that?” “ah green beans” or whatever she thought of she’d put it down in shorthand.
Mr. Wilson: In shorthand. It’s quicker.
Mr. King: Yeah. Oh Boy what a girl.
Mr. Wilson: Had a good life together.
Mr. King: I have a letter here I want to show you. Just a second. I found it. I picked up a Scottish Rite magazine out of Dallas. ??? It was Dean Earl Platt Sr. ??? and his younger brother Joe ??? person I ever met in my life that I knew about that had three given names. His name was Joseph Clarence Andrew Platt. There was Mom Platt and they were the kind of people that this world simply need more of. I can’t tell you ??? called and he said “Mom is going to be 90 years old ???” and he said they’ll be giving her, where she’s lived for several years now a birthday party. And he said “will you come?” and I said “we’ll be there”. “Oh by the way Mom is legally blind now. You’ll have to get up real close to her before she can recognize you and know who you are.” We drove to Dallas and went out to Blanton Gardens that Sunday afternoon and went in this ??? Lot of people there. And walked in and there she was standing there on the other side of the room, and Joe standing on this side and Earl standing on this side. ??? coming across there they walked her right straight towards me until we bumped. And that beautiful little lady looked ??? Buddy. Boy, couldn’t handle it ??? Anita, Anna Mae, and Joe and Gene and Earl and Mom-what an occasion it was. ??? left SMU before I did in 1948 and joined the ??? In 19 ??? And everybody they could think of to it. So Anita and I of course went. ??? On the second floor ??? he saw us walking across and he got out of that chair and he walked right catty corner across that huge room directly towards Anita, he doesn’t see me, and had his arms spread as wide as he could reach, and he said “Anita”. Everybody in the room could hear it, he didn’t say it he announced it to the world, he said “Anita, you’re just as beautiful as you were when you were 18” and gave her a world class hug you know and turned to me and said “Hi ugly”. And Frank died 2 years later in Houston. I have had a wonderful life. Man the people I’ve known. Can I tell you one more story?
Mr. Wilson: Uh Uh.
Mr. King: ??? Derwood Kline. Now you’ve never heard it in all likely hood. But back in the 30’s and 40’s Derwood Kline was one of the leading orchestra leaders in the southwest, well known all over Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, wherever and he also owned a music store on Elm Street in downtown Dallas. His father was Doc Kline who was the founder of the original head of the Dallas Weather Department in Dallas. You may have heard of that. Where your weather reports and all that business got started. In 1938 ??? Derwood Kline was one of the best known ??? real quick ??? And I ??? Derwood Kline.
Mr. Wilson: I’ve heard of him???
Mr. King: ??? That particular Friday night ??? I’d already checked and I ??? tie and shirt all for $37.50 and pay it out at $2.00 a week ??? 2 or 3 weeks ??? almost every week, 2 nights, sometimes more than that.
Mr. Wilson: How was New Mexico?
Mr. King: Well I’ve been to Hobbs, New Mexico out of Dallas for a one nighter.
Mr. Wilson: That’s a long trip for a one nighter.
Mr. King: And we made a one nighter, believe it or not, to New Orleans one time. Which is another story. I won’t bother you with that. But it was a wonderful experience for me. And I did that right up until WW II. I was doing that when I got, in fact, I was out playing on Saturday night. Anita and I had this apartment and I was out every Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday I’d sleep til 9-10 o’clock in the morning??? Old radio, one of these kinds like that. You remember the old time ??? radio. Flipped that thing on-it was Pearl Harbor all over it. And man alive, we just looked at each other and said ???
Mr. Wilson: People remember where they were and what they were doing.
Mr. King: Oh man alive. But anyway getting back to Derwood Kline,. When I got back to Dallas after the war, I organized my own band there and had it for six years. We played a lot of dances at the country clubs ??? never had a Friday night or Saturday night when I was free. Didn’t have my own band worked for Derwood ??? Anita and I got into the life insurance business and enjoyed it, I did for 29 years ??? I’ll tell you something, Ted made a lot of money with his band and he’s retired from the road now. He and his wife want be near their son ??? and is organizing a band for him to work weekends out of Dallas. ??? Hobbs or this weekend at Wichita, Kansas. At the officers club at the Air Force base up there. This band is unusual in that it calls for a second trombone and a third trumpet combined. And he said “I know you can play it”. And he said ??? don’t own a trumpet anymore-gave it away- and I’m not a member of the union anymore and I haven’t played my horn in 6 or 7 years. Haven’t had it out if the case. And I said I can’t, I’m working all day every day trying to build an insurance agency and I turned him down. He said “you owe me”. And boy I thought if anybody ever told the truth he did. Owed him all my life. And that’s the Friday morning ??? not ever seen before in my life and got in a car with three young guys bout half my age. Drove all day to Wichita, Kansas and checked in the hotel up there. We went downstairs and got a bite to eat ??? Air Force base ??? already set up on stage and everything and that’s where I discovered the worse thing I believe I ever found in my life The other trombone player didn’t show up ??? and I hadn’t played in years and in all honesty, I believe that was the worse band I ever heard in my life and we were playing at the Officer’s Club. Ted walked up ,and I never had seen him before, oh bout 4 or 5 minutes before time to start, ??? Ted, let’s just act like we know each other and play these people a good dance. And he called out the first set and we started. Well the next night we were playing at the same base but this time at the Non-commissioned Officers Club and it wouldn’t good but it wouldn’t near as bad as it was the night before. And course right soon as we was finished we got in the car and headed for the house. I walked in the house there in Dallas and told Anita “boy ??? get a pay check every week whether you work or not.” ??? I said Derwood what’s he have in mind? And he told me the figures-absolutely stunning to me- it was more than I would have asked if I had of asked. So I became a member of the Ted Wings Orchestra ??? played almost every week ??? for 5 or 6 weeks ??? oil field and the guys were getting comfortable with each other and sound like a band. All his arrangements were special. He didn’t have any stock arrangements, everything was manuscripts. All good players. And we played a, this is hard to believe, we played a theater engagement in Abilene, Texas ???