I am on the board of the nonprofit Bing Crosby Advocates, a local group that works in a variety of ways to promote Crosby’s legacy. He left Spokane at age 22 to become the best-selling recording artist of the 20th century, and so much more. It is significant for what took place on that recent Sunday to mention that Bing – “Der Bingle,” as he was known during World War II – topped the list of people who had done the most for the morale of the troops, ahead of even Gen. Eisenhower, FDR and Bob Hope, according to a poll of America’s GIs at the end of the war.
BCA board members, along with some interested volunteers, work as docents on Saturday afternoons so that the museum can be open to the public on a weekend day. Every other Sunday from April through the fall, we serve in the same capacity for tour groups that are either coming from or leaving for a nine-day steamboat excursion along the Columbia and Snake rivers. The museum is part of their add-on tour of the city of Spokane.
On Sundays, we have from two to four busloads of guests come through the museum, sometimes with as many as 50 passengers. We have chatted with people from all across America and around the world on these days. Pretty uniformly, all are interested in Bing, his music and history – and many comment on how lovely Spokane is.
After a little two-minute orientation to each bus group, the two docents on site move among the groups of people and we answer questions as best we can. On Sept. 11, I was chatting with a few people in the kitchen. One man told me that the reason they arrived late was that when they were boarding the bus after leaving the boat, a member of the group collapsed and paramedics had to be called. There was discussion about what might have happened, when I was told that the man standing next to me had come to the aid of the stricken individual.
That good Samaritan then mentioned that he was a retired firefighter and paramedic from Los Angeles, and that he was pretty certain his fellow tourist had suffered a stroke. He then showed me the badge that he still carries in his wallet, the badge he was clearly proud of.
“There wasn’t much I could do because I didn’t have any equipment with me,” the man said. “I just stayed with him until the paramedics came, and I made sure his airway stayed clear and open.”
Of course he did. He was a firefighter, after all, and that’s what firefighters do. It wasn’t lost on me that I was hearing this story on 9/11.
With one of the groups that day, right after giving the little orientation talk, I was approached by an elderly gentleman, who I’d guess had been in his early teens during WWII. He asked if he could sing a song. I’d never had that request before, but I didn’t see any reason why not. A few minutes later he and about three others stood by the Oscar statue that Bing won for his role in “Going My Way” and haltingly started singing “God Bless America.” After the first three words, their voices coordinated and grew stronger as they sang through to the end.
Before long, many of those assembled there that day joined in. No one had said anything about what day this was. No one needed to.
God bless America, indeed.