It was July, 1952 when I was told that I was going to be a by-pass specialist and I should report to the Band School at Samson AFB in Geneva, New York. Somewhere I had told someone that I had studied drums at the George Lawrence Stone Studios in Boston, Mass. This appeared to be of interest to someone. I arrived at Band School and was told that I was going to have to pass an audition before I was allowed to join the school.
I was put in a small room with a dance drum set of very advanced age and told that someone would see me shortly. In came a sergeant named Peter DeGenova who said he was looking for drummers to play in the Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps. Since I had never heard of him or the Corps, I thought: “why not, there was a war going on and this might keep me from it”. I played a few rudiments as asked and then he gave me sheet music to test my reading ability. I passed his test and he said I would be assigned to the school and he would be in touch when an opening occurred. My reaction was “Great”! The first person I met in the school after Peter was one Tony Lombardo who was a few weeks ahead of me at the school. Tony was very friendly and he showed me the ropes including many introductions. He was a real social go-getter.
We were in the school a short time and got our orders. Tony was going to the Corps and I was going to Maxwell AFB, in Montgomery, Alabama, the home of the Air War College and the Air University. I was at Maxwell only a few months when the Corps was sent there to perform. Tony was their brand new Drum Major and I must say he looked the part. Peter De said they had an opening and wanted to know if I would fill it. Needless to say I was off and running.
When I arrived in DC, I was assigned to brand new barracks that the Corps just moved into before I arrived. The drill field was a short distance from the barracks but we had to share it with the football team. The team would chew up the grass and we would march in dust and/or mud if it rained. Our instruments were brand new and they didn’t appreciate the condition of the field.
The way I learned the routines was that I was given sheet music for all of the drum routines and my roommates, Dick Newton and Dick Scudder, would practice with me until I had everything down pat. Peter De made sure that we had our marching routines correct. In those days Peter marched in the front row playing a tenor drum so he had incentive to get the routines correct.
In a brief time, someone came by and measured all of us for new uniforms. It turned out that they were the gabardine uniforms that became our trade mark. I can’t remember exactly when the new uniforms were delivered but it was the first custom made cloths I ever had.
My first parade was in Washington. I don’t remember what the occasion was but in the reviewing stand was President Eisenhower. As you know he came into Office in 1953 so it was a real thrill to see him in person. The trick was to keep your head straight ahead while moving your eyes to the side to see him. This always caused Peter Di to yell “eyes straight” loudly under his breath.
My next big event for that year was a trip to Bermuda. It was the fall of 1953 when we went there. It was real fun, although we couldn’t go swimming because of the sharp coral. I believe we stayed for three days. On the third day, each of us was given a slip of paper stating how much liquor we could purchase and bring home to Washington. I didn’t want any liquor so someone purchased my allotment and gave it to me. I was told to bring it back in my B-4 bag. Any surplus was loaded inside drum shells and bagpipe cases. When we got back to McGuire, our bags and cases were loaded onto trucks and I was loaded onto a bus. When we got back to Bolling, we had to turn over our liquor from the B-4 bags if we were on the list of those who didn’t purchase any. It was some trip and in particular because there was a rule that if one was on active duty and overseas for more than 24 hours, your status was changed from peace time to war time service. I found this out when I applied for the GI Bill (Public Law 550) to help pay for college.
I don’t remember doing anything noteworthy when we returned from Bermuda But 1954 was a busy year for the Corps and should be told in another Memories.