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Rants from the Relic - The Right Hand Man Band

by Doug Luthanen

There’s a big event coming to our area on September 9th as Veterans on the Lake celebrates a notable anniversary.  Big entertainment, including veteran Hank Thunander, is scheduled.

There are many ways to serve in the U.S. military.  Among them is through sharing one’s talents to entertain fellow service people while they are away from their families and homes.

One such veteran is Hank Thunander.

On May 3, 1967 Hank Thunander was drafted into the United States Army at age 24.  By that time, Hank had been a multi-instrument musician since he was a kid. He was sent to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, for basic training and had to leave his instruments behind.  A couple of weeks into boot camp, Hank, now a squad leader, met a shipment at the train station in Clarksville, TN.  His parents had sent him his Guerrini accordion!  What a delightful letter from home for the musician who had sorely missed playing.  So much had he missed playing that he  opened his accordion case, sat down on a bench at the depot and wiggled the rust out of his eager fingers.  After 45 minutes, he was sailing over the keys playing as though he had never been separated from his passion.

Word quickly spread about Hank’s musical talent, and he soon was on his way to notoriety with both his fellow soldiers and the Brass.  After basic training, Hank was assigned to Military Police school in Ft. Gordon, GA.  One evening at a supper club where Hank was playing, Major Dave Vining called him to his table and told Hank that he wanted him to put together a Special Services Band for entertainment across many Army venues. Within three weeks, he was actively recruiting a full band with impressive vocal and instrumental talents that Hank was especially proud to lead. By the end of his stint at Fort Gordon, Hank and his Special Services Band were entertaining 15,000 troops each month. Among the gigs were retirement celebrations for Army generals from across the United States, including several in Washington DC. Hank received his honorable discharge on May 2, 1969 and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service with Special Services. His rank at separation was Special Services Entertainment - NCOIC (Non- Commissioned Officer-in-Charge) - Specialist (SPC) - Grade: E4.

Hank returned to his home in St. Paul and continued to perform and entertain in venues all over America.  He has played in Ely several times over the years to enthusiastic audiences.  He’s still gigging today at age 80.

This virtuoso will be on stage at Veterans on the Lake on September 9th to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of this special place.  A big tent and rows of chairs will be set up to accommodate the audience expected to be in the hundreds.  Hank has prepared a patriotic set to honor veterans and inspire the public.


You have the opportunity to enjoy and admire the skill of this multi hall-of-fame performer on that Saturday evening by the lake.  And to share in honoring the contributions of our veterans.

One more thing. I watched a couple of YouTube videos of Hank on stage and noticed that he wore a watch on his right hand. I had to ask Hank if he was left handed. “No,” he chuckled. “All accordion players wear their watches on their right hand.”

When you watch and listen at Veterans, note this oddity and see if you can reason out why it’s true.

Doug Luthanen grew up in Ely and graduated from Memorial High School in 1967. He wrote a weekly viewpoint column for the Northwest Arkansas Times for four years and is an occasional contributor to The Ely Echo.

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