A day after Veterans Day, four Twin Cities area vets got a 22-harmonica salute on Wednesday. (Left to right) Marie White, Merlin Marlow of Robbinsdale, Howard Helland of New Hope and Larry Robillard of Bloomington, are the oldest members of the Silvertones Harmonica Group.
Every Wednesday for more than seven years now, they and a couple of dozen others have met for a few hours in the Winnetka Learning Center in New Hope, ostensibly to play harmonicas together, but mostly to just be with each other. On Wednesday, their group serenaded them with some patriotic songs and then listened to their war stories. About 50 others showed up to listen.
“I was teaching harmonicas at the high school,” Marlow said. “I came to the learning center and decided to start a band here. We started with four people and before long we had 27.”
Robillard, 89, played with the Minnetonka Harmonicas before moving to the Silvertones. “It kind of dissolved,” he said. “People died.”
“When I was about 14 years old, I used to go up to Milaca and work on my aunt’s dairy farm,” Marlow said, describing his start in harmonica showbiz. “She played the harmonica and said, ‘Merlin, you’re going to learn how to play the harmonica. At night when we started milking the cows, she had me play the harmonica because the cows gave more milk.”
Marlow went off to war before the others. He joined the Navy and served on the carrier Enterprise and thanks God that a storm delayed the carrier’s scheduled December 7, 1941 return to Pearl Harbor by one day. . Helland was an engineer based in Iceland. Robillard was assigned to a destroyer, and White was a nurse with the Blue Devils 88th Division in Italy.