School Daze From 1917 to 1976
By Monk Watson in the Colon Express newspaper, 1976: “The year was 1917 and the 32nd Division of Michigan and Wisconsin was training for overseas duty as a combat division. I found myself in the 125th Infantry Band as a clarinet player. The duty of the band was to play for parades and learn first aid and to be stretcher-bearers. This I found was terrible, but was necessary for the survival of the fighting men. Also it was very necessary for somebody to entertain those fighting men, to give them a little relaxation between fronts. I turned out to be the man they were looking for. I could sing, dance, tumble and all-around clown. All of these talents were good for me, even when the fighting was rough and I had no idea I’d even make it back. I found time to put on a red wig and give out anything for a laugh.
So, back to my memories I see Gus Edwards’ “School Days” that played the vaudeville theatres from coast to coast. I saw the act many times in Jackson where I ushered at the Bijou Theatre. I remembered every word and move. So I wrote to New York for permission to produce the act for the men, and I put the act on in Waco Texas in the YMCA tent, along with my Jazzers, ie., jazz band. We also had a couple of more acts on the program. My school kids consisted of men playing girls and boys. It went over so well that we were asked to do the same show over again in Waco at the big theatre. Again it went over very big, and General Hahn came back and told me to keep up the good work. We were close friends from that day to the end of the war. “School Daze” played all over Germany and France. After the war I had to have a new cast because I had lost most of the first cast in action.
Now we jump to Detroit and the largest theatre west of New York City, the Grand Riviera. I put “School Daze” on several times in the four years I was in that theatre. Then came the movies, and stage shows were out. Again I formed a new cast for commercial shows to play across the country several times.
Now come World War II and again I find myself in Texas as morale director in several flying schools, and again I produce “School Daze” with the young future pilots. I wrote a song for these young men to learn and sing around the world. I received letters from these pilots telling me that hey heard my song on the streets of London, and fou8nd the singers were from my schools in Texas. What a thrill that was for me. All of that cast of young men are long gone, most of them shot down.
Now we’re in the year 1976 and I have promised the Bicentennial committee that I’ll again do School Daze on July 16 – 17 in the air-conditioned high school gym with a real good cast of Hal Wright as Toughy”, Wade Drake as “Izzy”, David Farrell as “Percy”, Sharon Drake as “Ima Pest”, Bertha Frohriep as “Ura Nut” and Hilda Butler as “Carrie Potts”.”