Alabama Ramblers

Members of the band kneeling, from left, PFC Stanley White, Hartselle; M/Sgt. Jerry McGivney, Athens; PFC George Naope, Hilo, Hawaii; Sgt. First Class J.W. Hudson, Athens; Sgt. Richard McElyea, Athens. Standing, from left, M/Sgt. Dee Proctor, Hartselle; M/Sgt. Howard Proctor, Hartselle; Sgt. Robert M. Allen, Sgt. Charles Adams and Cpl. Fred B. Clem, all of Athens; PFC James Price, Owensboro, Mo.; Sgt. Robert Grigsby and Cpl. Dale Casteel, both of Athens.

Dale Casteel says when the Company B 1343rd Engineering Battalion left Athens more than 50 years ago going overseas, some of the boys carried their musical instruments with them mostly for their own entertainment.

And after arriving in Korea, some started talking about getting a band together.

Casteel, who was a member of that band, said Jerry McGivney, of Athens, “took hold of the reins” and began getting everything together and lining everyone up.”

This started the group known as the “Alabama Ramblers.”

Soon, the group would record tapes and mail them to Bob Dunnavant at radio station WJMW in Athens. Dunnavant was a good friend to the members of the band and would play their music. The men also recorded messages on the tapes for their families at home.

Many members of the band will be back in Athens July 15 for a reunion of the battalion. The reunion will be at the Alabama Veterans Museum beginning at 6 p.m.

Richard McElyea, chairman of the committee putting together the reunion, said 65 members of the 129-member unit are living. He said those surviving members live all over the United States including several who live in Athens and Limestone County.

“When we were playing in the band,” Casteel said, “we would work during the day and play at night.”

The band was a country music band, he said.

“Many shows were performed in a variety of places, and the band really enjoyed entertaining,” said Casteel. “It appeared that the crowds truly loved the band and our music. However, we were the only show in town so it was The Alabama Ramblers or nothing.

“I am very proud to have been a very small part of this band, whose members served their country with pride and honor and then with their music,” Casteel said. “Just maybe, somewhere across America, someone that served in Korea during this time can recall the ole country band from North Alabama called The Alabama Ramblers and smile.”

The Alabama Ramblers plan to play again during the reunion.

“We plan on being there and playing with them,” said Tony Grigsby, the lead singer of the local Lanny Rose Band. Grigsby’s father, Lanny, was a member of that band. He was killed in 1965 during a fall at the old Limestone County Fairgrounds.

“The boys in the service back then were starved for entertainment,” said Grigsby, “and daddy and members of the band played for them. They were a big hit.”

Casteel said on occasion, the young band would play at the field hospitals.

“The patients and nurses treated us like we were big stars,” he recalled. “The group knew that they had touched a heart when tears could be seen rolling down one’s cheek. Perhaps the music and words would cause one to reminisce about loved ones or home and for just a moment forget about the danger that lurked around them.”

While the group may not have been a great band, some say they had some good entertainers like J.W. Hudson, who sang the song he wrote called “Away From You”; and the Proctor brothers of Hartselle; and Stan White and Robert “Catfish” Allen.

McElyea and Charles Adams were good performers and Fred Clem played the mandolin and was the band’s comedian. Grigsby played the harmonica, while James Price, the old boy from Missouri, played the steel guitar.

Casteel said George Naope, the only professional in the bunch, had a band or orchestra at home in Hawaii and played a role in one of Bing Crosby’s movies.

“Hank Williams heard the tapes that had been sent to the radio station and the group received word that Hank liked the music and wanted us to appear on his show on the Grand Ole Opry,” said Casteel. “However, before the men could return home, Hank Williams was fired form the Opry and died shortly afterwards.”

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