Wisconsin rocked out to air guitar riffs in the 1960s when Sgt. Glenn Fredrick Dean and his band played the taverns around Washington County. At just 20 years of age, Dean left his family, friends and fans heartbroken when the news broke about his death.
Writing Dean’s biography in 2015 came easier than expected for a vet with few living family members. One look on the Virtual Vietnam War Memorial reveals a popular, well-liked man in the myriad of comments from his many friends on his memorial page. The comments share a common theme of Dean’s talent and passion for music. For years, high school classmates and non-relatives who nonetheless remember the young musician from West Bend have been filling memorial pages with their sentiments.
“I met Glenn in the middle school years in the trumpet/cornet section of the band. He was the best trumpet player by far and I think the rest of us were humbled to be part of his section of the band. Glenn was funny, witty and serious about playing it right when Mr. Bleick lifted the baton. He could make a funny comment, crack all of us up and then come in just at the right musical moment when the rest of us were struggling to stop laughing,” reads one of the comments on Dean’s virtual memorial, by friend and classmate Kathy Scheer.
West Bend High School named Dean one of the best trumpet players in the school’s history. He held the first chair for trumpet in West Bend High’s jazz band. Outside of school, Dean rolled with a band of his own, the Sandman, as the lead singer and occasional trumpeter. Along with singing, Dean played more than just the trumpet, however.
“I remember Glenn playing air guitar at the Hillside Tavern outside of Hartford,” Dean’s friend Frank Schoenbeck said.
The Sandman, rock ‘n’ roll cover band, consisted of five men when Dean lived. They learned and performed whatever popular, new music played on the radio each month, including the Beatles. Their audience loved when they played, and they especially loved Dean’s air guitar.
“Blood, Sweat & Tears was going on at the time, so he had played some trumpet to their songs, but there weren’t enough songs to always play trumpet,” Schoenbeck said. “So he’d break it out when he could, and in between he’d play air guitar because he thought people would expect him to do something up there. He had his guitar that was never plugged in, it was our inside joke.”
They performed at every place that there was to perform at in the area, including all the taverns in and around Washington County. Though minors could not legally drink at home, they could legally drink in the bars in Wisconsin at the time. People went to these “minor bars” not only to drink, but also to party and dance.
“So we would go to these places, and Glenn would play, and we were kind of like groupies, I guess,” Schoenbeck said. “They pretty much played to the audience. They’d throw a ballad in so you could have a little close dancing.”
Dean and his band aimed to make people happy with their rock ‘n’ roll covers of well-known and –liked songs.
“It was all covers, and I’m tellin’ ya, probably one of the best cover bands around,” the Sandman drummer Jerry Bast said. “We played all of it.”
Bast originally lived in Illinois. When driving back down to the Prairie State from Wisconsin one day, he stopped to get gas at a station Dean happened to be at.
“I came down to get gas and had my drums in the back,” Bast said. “Glenn Dean says, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a drummer.’ I says, ‘Let me play!’”
In addition to performing live, Dean’s band recorded some of their covers. A West Bend disk jockey by the name of Ken Wright heard the Sandman performing one time and thought it sounded pretty good. He offered to front the costs of recording some of their covers at the West Bend radio station. Dean and his band took Wright up on that offer. The station sometimes played their recordings on air.
“It was a very popular band—we made so many good friends, and so many good times,” Bast said. “Glenn was a very good friend of mine.”
The Sandman remained together to perform and record after Dean left for Vietnam, dropping from five to four members. Instead of replacing Dean, existing band members Bob Scott and Dave St. Louis took over the vocals, though no one picked up the air guitar when he left.
Music continued to play a major role in Dean’s life even in Vietnam. He bonded with fellow servicemen over music.
“I think of [Glenn] often, although we knew each other for a few months, we became good friends from the start. We loved music, cars and our girls back home,” reads a comment on Dean’s memorial page from one of his friends from the war. “We stumbled through the mud, the blood, the heat together. Then came, that morning, the ambush, gone wrong, we were, split up, not by choice, the night before, I was safe, behind an anthill, he was exposed. I lived, he died.”
When Dean left the last time for Vietnam, he said goodbye to a mother, a father, a fiancé, friends and a band that would never see him again. His loved ones remember him as a warm and ambitious man. The same drive that fueled his music career also fueled every other endeavor he pursued, including his fight in Vietnam.
Dean enlisted in the army after graduation and went to Vietnam. He safely returned to the United States after his initial deployment, but signed then on to a program to get promoted to sergeant status and went back to Vietnam. An enemy soldier shot Dean in a hostile attack in Binh Duong on August 7, 1968, leaving him to die from the wounds.
“He was a go-getter; he had a lot of energy,” Schoenbeck said. “When he focused on something, he went after it.”