A Song To Capture The Veterans' Spirit

Posted: September 19, 1987

The song was inside him for a long time, Richard Gill remembers. But it took the "Last Patrol" to bring it out.

The Last Patrol was the 140-mile march from Washington to Philadelphia in May in connection with Philadelphia's Vietnam veterans memorial, which is to be unveiled next month at Penn's Landing. And although Gill, 34, had never seen military service, he felt at one with the men slogging along U.S. Route 40.

"I was moved," Gill was saying yesterday, "and all of a sudden, it all came together."

The result is the song "Soldiers of the Clouds," with words and music by Gill, which is being produced locally on cassette and is expected to be available in record stores next week.

It is a tribute to the men who died in Vietnam, and it already has had considerable acceptance. At the Hero Scholarship Fund Thrill Show at John F. Kennedy Stadium on Sept. 11, a 20-voice group known as Richard Gill and the Assembly of Pride, which recorded the number, sang it as the show-opener and was accorded a standing ovation.

Then, at the We the People 200 Parade on Thursday, the song was played throughout the march from an Army truck carrying honored veterans.

Also, "Soldiers of the Clouds" has been chosen as the official song of Philadelphia's Vietnam veterans memorial. And it has been endorsed by the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Society, as well as by the Philadelphia Chapter, American Gold Star Mothers.

"Things are moving along, but there is still a lot more to be done," said Richard Strohm, a Philadelphia police lieutenant who is promoting the record in his free time. "For instance, we're going to need the support of the radio stations in airing the song."

In this time of We the People, the recording of the song might aptly be termed a people's product. None of the performers was a professional musician, and the personnel, chosen pretty much at random, ranged from five boys of elementary school age to veterans of three wars: World War II, Korea and

Vietnam. One of those veterans was Robert S. Hurst, president of Local 5, Fraternal Order of Police, who did four tours of duty in Vietnam with the Army's Special Forces. Another - the only woman in the group - was Mary Fran Bonner Daly, who was an Army nurse in Vietnam.

After Gill wrote the song, he took it to Strohm, an officer in the Northwest Detective Division. The two had worked together early this year when Gill, composing on his 12-string guitar, turned out a song titled "The Challenger Still Flies." Strohm had taken a cassette of the song to Concord, N.H., for presentation to the school where Christa McAuliffe, one of the astronauts killed in the Challenger tragedy, had taught.

Gill lives in Mayfair with his wife and three children, and is a supervisor at Forest Hills Memorial Park in the Far Northeast. He has been writing songs since he was 12.

He and Strohm put together the group that would record "Soldiers of the Clouds." There were five evenings of rehearsals, and on June 12, the recording was cut at a studio in the Northeast owned by a friend, Allan Paller. Gill played guitar and Paller played synthesizer.

The cassettes - there will be 10,000 in the first release - are being distributed by Diskmakers Inc.

This has been anything but a big-budget operation. The biggest fiscal boost came from Moreland International, which owns Forest Hills; the corporation donated $2,000 toward production costs, which thus far have been about $5,500. Members of the group have put up their own funds to pay the balance.

"It's a song about a valiant cause," said Larry Miller, president of the Moreland firm. "We're happy to make a contribution. I hope it's a great success."

As you might expect, the song has lyrics that are poignant. The chorus, for example, goes:

We found the Last Patrol. We found them

standing by the wall of Fallen Heroes.

Tell their mothers that their sons are

marching in the sky,

Tell them that they're Soldiers of the

Clouds.

Tell them - please, tell them - please tell

them, so they know;

Clouds.

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