I was born in a boys’ reform school in July 1925; yes, actually born there. My parents were Colonel A.E. and Janet Tanner. Ferris School, in Marshallton, Wilmington, Delaware, was a state project. My father was hired as superintendent and transformed the reform school into a military academy.
My parents were childhood sweethearts. My dad was an officer in WWI and WWII.
Music was a big part of our lives. Dad graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He could play just about any instrument. My five brothers and I each picked an instrument. The Colonel, as we called him, taught us to play.
When we left Ferris School, our family, along with the orchestra the Colonel had assembled, traveled and performed up and down the coast from Mississippi to Georgia.
Although all my brothers were talented, Paul ended up as our “famous brother.” He was discovered playing trombone in a little “dive” in New York. Glenn Miller asked him to join a new band he was putting together.
When I was 15, Paul invited me to visit him while the orchestra was on tour. They were performing on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Glenn squatted on the edge of the stage to sign autographs. He looked over at me and said, “Aren’t you Paul Tanner’s brother?”
Some of the audience asked me for my autograph!
As an adult I’ve often been mistaken for Paul. I’ve enjoyed that resemblance as Paul and I were very close.
Paul was always involved in music, performing and doing background music for the movie industry. He eventually developed a jazz history class and taught at UCLA. During his teaching career he invented an instrument called an electro-theremin. Paul played sound effects with his instrument in several movies including The Day the Earth Stood Still, television shows like My Favorite Martian, and he even performed with the Beach Boys band. Paul and his electro-theremin played the unique electronic sounds in songs like Good Vibrations.
Due to the Colonel serving in the military, we moved a lot. I attended 17 schools from elementary through high school, before enlisting in the Army in Washington, D.C., in 1943. While in basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, I was assigned as a counter-insurgency agent. I was sworn to secrecy about that service, and wasn’t allowed to give details to anyone until 2006 when I received clearance from Army Intelligence.
During training I was injured practicing hand-to-hand combat. That injury left my heart damaged and prevented me from going overseas. In October 1945 I was selected as Chief Clerk, Base Statistical Office, at Eglin Army Air Force Base. I was discharged Feb. 21, 1946 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, with the rank of Corporal, with a Meritorious Service Award for my activities in counter-insurgency.
In January 1947 I enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve and served as an Electronic Technician Mate “striker.” I served aboard two navy ships, receiving an honorable discharge Dec. 15, 1948.
On Sept. 5, 1948 I married Mary O’Connell. We had a son and two daughters. During the years the kids were growing up, I worked several jobs, including in the Santa Fe Coast Lines Railroad auditor’s department. I worked in computer programming for Hughes Aircraft, and Northrop Aircraft. I retired from Star-Kist/Heinz Pet Products in 1990.
Boy Scouts has been a major part of my life since 1946. I started as a scoutmaster in Long Beach. I am a life member in the National Eagle Scout Association. For 70 years I have worked in numerous capacities, and currently serve as a merit badge counselor.
I’ve been in the American Legion since 1946, serving in numerous positions from post bugler to vice commander.
My entire family became involved in square dancing starting in 1962. The various groups we’ve participated with have danced in Canada, China, UK and Alaska and on cruise ships.
My wife and I volunteered with the American Red Cross since 1972. Mary was a registered nurse and I setup and managed shelters during major disasters. I am currently working as a consultant, reporting directly to the Washington National Headquarters.
You might say I’ve led a busy life. I’m 91 years old, and have admittedly slowed down. However, as long as I can stand upright, I shall continue to enjoy every day.