Posted by: guinness222 | July 18, 2009

“,…and that’s the way it was,…good night.”

      America lost a revered and honest man yesterday,…Walter Cronkite. While “just a reporter” Cronkite did more than 99% of the men in the history of the world have done. He earned the trust and respect of his countrymen, the citizens of the world, and was never pompous about it.

       I remember watching Cronkite during the dreadful days in 1964 when President Kennedy was assassinated. From his intial announcement of the assassination and the death of Kennedy he showed the face of America and the true emotions felt by everyone.

       Again later in that decade he was the man who went on record stating the United States was in a quagmire of a stalemate during the Viet Nam war. (Some take umbrege with calling it a war, but I have a number of friends who never came back, it WAS a war, and all wars are hell!)

      I know Cronkite is probably looking for an anchor desk in heaven now, and God would be nuts if he didn’t give him a long term contract!


      On a happier note, I may have written in the past about some of my childhood, (while actually my teen years) in Drum & Bugle Corps. I can honestly say that is a warm and happy memory I’ll carry with me the rest of my life,…but I wanted to make a few comments on it.

      This past week I stumbled on a web site (God I love the web it’s like having a genie in your pocket at your beck and call!!), which purported to have old Drum Corps recordings from my time in them, back in the early to mid 60’s. I started looking at the listings and catalogue they had and ,….well, $50 later I was anxiously awaiting the mailman with “my package of pleasant memories of the 60’s”. Don;t get me wrong I loved the Mama’s and the Papa’s, Peter Paul and Mary, the Stones, the Beatles, the entire “British invasion” as well as our own “American Bandstand” and Elvis, but……. There were other great things happening as well, and Drum and Bugle Corps were one of them. Fueled by the return of American GI’s who knew what it was to march in a formation, and the teamwork it took to harness 60 or seventy people in a “ballet” of sorts. The uniformity, the inner feeling of “making it happen” for your team. Well a lot of these guys wanted more of that “rush” after the war, so they began to hang out , found out that the old single piston bugle and even a snare or a tenor drum were not that hard to play. (Drummers had to have great dexterity and precision, whereas the “horn line” was not quite as exacting.) They added a new dimension to the lines and ranks and file of military units, they added music, they added uniforms, and most importantly a sense of personal pride and increased self esteem by providing folks with a unique and very intriguing program of  music and marching,…and maneuvering.

       Pretty soon these middle age veterans had kids who also wanted in, they watched “crazy Daddy” go to all these practices, and the trips every weekend to contests all over the place, the thrill of thousands of people cheering and applauding, the disciplineof very picky Marine style Military inspections before you go on the field by an  “Inspection Judges” on the back line of the end zone on a football field. Obviously it was called the “Inspection Line”, after the inspection line and once the Corps standing on “The line”, i.e. goal line in front of you started thierprogram and marched onto the field your Drum Major would bring the Corps up to the line. Then the butterflies would start, you are running through the music in your head (every note and nuance had to be memorized, no cheat sheets, occasionally you would have a new guy who hadn’t picked it all up yet so he would be told to “fake it” but not to make a single sound with it, lest the “Horn Judge” pick it up and “gig” , or penalty point off the score for the horns. )

       You thought about the “M&M” ( marching and maneuvering) routine, was it sixteen steps then turn or “mark time” (march in place) for eight and then turn. How many hours had we practiced this in the old parking lot at the Raytheon plant from 6pm until we couldn’t even see each other it got so dark out. Mr. Fisher, our M&M Instructor must have had  his sense of humor removed surgically, he made a Marine DI look like a pussycat. He was everywhere, behind you , beside you, every time you made a mistake he was there, with his patterned “No! No! No! You know it’s eight count then turn, get it right or you’re on the sidelines Saturday night, where are your smarts tonight, think,..think. Do it all over again Corps, from the presentation, move it, it’s getting dark and we have a long way to go if you aren’t going to make idiots of yourself Saturday night.”

         But as soon as you heard your Corps name announced over the Loud speaker, and your Drum Major signalled “Horns Up”, 36 to 40 bugles all came up in precision fashion as one, drummers snapped to and snapped their sticks into their start position. The Drum Major gave a four count, and BAM! It all came together, 36 bugles, from Sopranos, French Horns, Baritones, Bass Baritones, Contra-Basses (huge horns that rested on your shoulder for the entire performance so you could only see in one your left), and “first, second and thirds” of each horn. Bass, snare and tenor drums also in multiples, with a “horn Judge” looking for the littlest flaw, slur, attack or anything from the horns while a “Drum Judge” followed the Drum line like a buzzard over carrion, again looking for absolutely perfect stick heights from all four snares, tenors or Cymbals at the same height and again perfect execution of every stroke or note. Sound impossible? We sure as hell took pride in doing the best human job that could possibly be done, down to the last man or girl. Picture eight and nine year olds as well as eighteen and nineteen year olds all working together to achieve the ultimate perfection a perfect score of 100. Somewhere up in the stands was a “GE” Judge, (“General Effect”), watching to see that every line flowed that the music and marching was totally in synch, and even somewhat influenced by the crowds reactions as well. Oh, also on the field were two M&M judges checking to see that we were machines, that all strides were together, that the six foot eighteen year old was not leaving the four foot eight year old in the dust. That there was perfect spacing between each Corps member. That everyone turned at exactly the same instant. Every infraction of horns, drums, or M&M was a tenth of a point deduction. And these contest were decided sometimes on a hundredth of a point difference between First and second, or second and third!

        But God it was a full blown rush like I can not tell you. I can not imagine a bigger high than doing this for 11-13 minutes of non-stop action. Let me tell you it is probably the best shape I’ve ever been in and better than a two hour hard workout at the gym. After your performance was finished it was back to the bus (old yellow school buses are our friend for as much as five hours one way to contests), change and try and cool off, and then back to the stands to catch your competition and see if maybe, just maybe your “perfect” performance was better than their perfect performance.

        You dated girls in the color guard, because we lived with worse schedules than a Doctor. Practice for horns  nights a week during the season (late March to mid September), M&M practice three to four times a week from six to nine or ten. Parents would even line the cars up on the sidelines and turn on the headlights so we could see what we were doing. There wasn’t a free minute to even think about getting in trouble, let alone doing it.

         There were Corps from the inner cities, the “burbs, everywhere, all with pride, love of their Corps, and a real sense of “family” if someone was picking on one of ours they had to deal with all of us. But there was a real sense of honor, no bad mouthing, or trash talk. Once the scores were announced it was back to the buses and the long ride home to contemplate what we had to do for next week and where our shortcomings were and how we fix them.

        This will be a multi-part blog, because it needs to be. As I write it I sit here listening to my “memories” (if I can figure out how to attach an MP3 file I’ll send you one on the next blog)

      Next time I’ll talk about the other members of “my Corps” , and the bonds we forged, and why we are who we are and what we are.

      Tomorrow how I met my future wife at eighteen when a friend of mine threw a firecracker into her corps bus and she got hit with it, we had to drive fifty some odd miles one way to go apologize to her or be thrown out of the Corps,….but more tomorrow. 43years being married to a Drum Major ain’t all bad, but it sure do damage to the joints as you get older and it shows up, but we just sick it up and get on with life, that’s what we learned.


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