Corps' senior 'Master Guns' steps down

14 May 2003 | Staff Sgt. Kay Green

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band held a retirement ceremony for Master Gunnery Sergeant Charles V. Corrado May 14 in the John Philip Sousa Band Hall at Marine Barracks Washington. 

Corrado's 45-year career of service is unparalleled in the United States Marine Corps.

At the ceremony, he was awarded the Legion of Merit. The citation included recognition of his "superb leadership, uncommon loyalty, and sustained outstanding performance of duties." MBW presented Corrado with a United States Flag flown over the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, and MBW. In letters presented at the ceremony, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all expressed warm wishes and gratitude for Corrado's years of service.

"If I were asked to identify Charlie's greatest professional accomplishment, I would point to all of the people on this stage, because the Marine Band and its members would not be what or where they are today without Charlie's incalculable contributions to the Marine Band, both personal and professional," Marine Band Director Colonel Timothy W. Foley said of Corrado's long and storied career.

"I never dreamed when I joined the band in 1962 that it would become such a part of who I am. I will always be a Marine Bandsman, " said Corrado. 

Corrado, whose official retirement date is July 10, began his musical instruction at 11. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in Boston on July 11, 1958 when he was 18. Scheduled for assignment as a Motor Vehicle Maintenance Technician upon graduation from recruit training at Parris Island, S.C., Corrado was given the opportunity during boot camp to audition for the Parris Island Marine Band on accordion. Following the successful completion of recruit training, he was assigned to the Parris Island band as their accordionist. While with the Parris Island band, he earned a promotion to private first class on April 1, 1959.

During an 18-month tour on Okinawa, Japan, Corrado was promoted to lance corporal and performed for the Commander in Chief for the very first time when President Eisenhower made a historic visit. This performance would mark the first of countless performances in support of ten different Commanders in Chief over the next 45 years.

After Okinawa, Corrado was ordered to report to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for duty as a bandsman with the Second Marine Division Band. In March 1962, he successfully auditioned for "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band as an accordionist. He was ordered to Marine Barracks, Washington, appointed directly to the rank of sergeant, and assigned the military occupational specialty 9811-member, U.S. Marine Band-in April 1962.

Once in Washington, Corrado became a very popular fixture at White House social events and earned a promotion to the rank of staff sergeant on June 1, 1963. His first performance at the White House was as an accordionist at a state dinner for which then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy requested a polka group in the private residence. It is another performance for the Kennedys that Corrado remembers most fondly. "My favorite memory from the White House," Corrado said, "would have to be playing solo accordion for President Kennedy's birthday in May of 1963." 

Six months later, Mrs. Kennedy again requested that Corrado play accordion, this time for John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s third birthday party, which took place 10 days after President Kennedy's funeral. Photos of the occasion were featured in Time and People magazines.

Corrado was promoted to the rank of gunnery sergeant on July 1, 1966, and was promoted to master sergeant on Dec. 1, 1969. Corrado was promoted to his present rank on July 1, 1975. His date of rank makes him the senior master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps. In 1980, Corrado was appointed combo section leader and section commander, serving as the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of any musical commitment involving jazz and popular music groups at the White House, and providing consultation to the White House Social Office on many occasions regarding special musical requirements occurring during events at the executive mansion.

In January 1995, the White House Social Office sent Corrado to Hollywood, Calif., to advise movie director Rob Reiner during the production of the movie "The American President." As the technical advisor, he was tasked with ensuring a realistic and accurate portrayal of White House state dinner scenes.

Another story from 1995 exemplifies the kind of flexibility and quick thinking that has endeared Corrado to every president for whom he has performed. While providing impromptu accompaniment for bluegrass legend Bill Monroe at a state dinner, Corrado found himself sharing the piano bench with President Clinton, who sat down to request "God Bless America" for the next song.

Corrado has been a recurring presence at the executive mansion for 10 presidents, and the current Commander in Chief is no exception. Prior to performing for First Lady Laura Bush's surprise 50th birthday party in the private residence, President Bush recognized Corrado from the first Bush administration and chatted with him about his extensive career in the Marine Corps.

Corrado's uncommon loyalty and dedication to his duties have earned the respect of all with whom he has come into contact. Though he became the most recognized musician at the White House and personified the term "The President's Own," when asked to sum up his incredible career, Corrado said simply, "It has been an honor to work with these fantastic musicians.  I have no regrets."