The four months I was with the Blue Knights (February 22 - July 8, 1977), rank as one of the most meaningful and intense times in my life - and I can say this despite enduring one year as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, and the frantic months spent finishing my Ph.D. dissertation. I have fond memories that I recall even today, more than 30 years later. There are people for whom I cared deeply, and with whom I wish fervently to restore contact. This was such a challenging and fulfilling time in my life. I cannot tell you how much it meant to read the memories written by a fellow Styx on this site (John Fought), or to recognize in his pictures, individuals that were especially dear to me.
So, let’s begin. I am a proud member of the Styx section, serving as Drum Sergeant from May 1 to July 8, 1977. My first glimpse of the Blue Knights occurred on Saturday, February 19, the day after arriving at Keesler AFB from Lackland AFB. That morning I was outside wandering around the dormitory, when I came around a corner and saw these marvelously uniformed individuals getting on a bus to go to what I later found out to be a Mardi Gras performance in New Orleans. Coming from a background where I had played drums and tympani in various bands and in Junior ROTC, my interest in the group was immediately stoked. And those uniforms! That day, the Corps was wearing the dark blue long-sleeved shirts. In ROTC I had been on the color guard, which meant bloused boots, white laces, and ascots. So, I was hooked immediately.
My try-out was Tuesday evening, February 22. There, Kevin Woodvine, the Drum Sergeant at the time, handed me the sheet music for one of the cadences, and asked me to sight read it. I apparently did well enough to meet his satisfaction, as he invited me right there to become a member. Then began a most fascinating time—learning how to burn boots to prepare them for a Corps shine, doing “morning floors” because I was on “B” shift while most of the Corps was on “A” shift, learning what it meant to be an off the street boot, the move from the great location we had on one side of the base to the dorms with the “commoners” on the other side, and learning what it meant to be “on the street.” For me, that was an especially trying time. My first performance on the street was “Flightline,” on Monday, March 21. That day, the Corps had a particularly bad day, with several mental lapses earning the ire of the Drum Major, Frank Schultz. Unfortunately for me, the Styx section was located directly in front of the Drum Major during flightline, so when I nervously put my sticks in the “Parade Rest” position which I had done through three years of ROTC drumming instead of the Corps version, my correction caught the Drum Major’s ever-observant eye. He later reamed out the entire Corps for its performance. The brunt of his anger, however, seemed to fall on me, as I was yanked off the street, where I remained for the next week and a half. To this day, I wonder if the only thing that prompted his relenting the next week and allowing me on was because we were doing a special performance on Saturday, April 2, for which two members of the Corps were designing a precise program where they needed to know exactly who was performing since each person would be assigned a specific position during the show. Pressed by them as to my disposition, the Drum Major allowed my return on March 30, with my first performance upon my return being the bi-weekly Thursday engagement on March 31.
The weekend of my 32 hour inspection was April 8–10. Both John Fought and I went up the same weekend. Wally Smith would be my inspector, although I did not know this when he came into my room the Saturday evening before. The only thing I still remember him asking was how many times I would go through the 32 if things did not work out the first time. Though already exhausted from being up all night Friday, I told him that I would so it as many times as it took. You can imagine my surprise when it was he who walked through the door with my rope the next day.
There are many more stories I could recite concerning my time in the Corps. Allow me to cite two more here. The first was the time I broke a head on the tri-toms. From first hearing Kevin Woodvine play them, I made it my mission to become the next tri-tom player. To that end, every chance I could I would go into the room where the drums were kept and teach myself all the cadences (it helped that I have always had an ear for playing things from memory). This one Friday I was wailing away, when I busted a head on the center drum. The next day, Woody (as we called him) was furious—not only because I had broken the head, but because we had a performance that very evening! So, we spent Saturday morning going as far as Gulfport to find a drum store that sold the drum head he needed. The second occurred after I became Drum Sergeant. Until last summer, I had never watched the original Star Wars, a fact in which I took great pride. Why? When Star Wars first came out, the majority of the Corps went together to watch it on a Friday evening. I, however, did not go. Instead, I replaced and tuned the new drum heads for the bass drums that had just come in that week. To me, replacing the heads was a higher priority, and as the years went by, I took great pleasure in telling the story of not having gone to a movie that virtually everyone else had seen.
I cannot resist a third. The Corps did not earn its nickname “Drunk & Stumble” for nothing. One particular fine day when we had a late Saturday afternoon performance, one member of the Styx took the opportunity to indulge in a few too many beers beforehand. To say that this individual (I know his name but I am not telling - he was even my own boot!) was drunk is an understatement. He was totally smashed! So much so that he could not even walk in a straight line! You can only imagine how he performed in that days parade! Afterwards, as Drum Sergeant, I was furious - the only time I had ever reached such a state my entire time in the Corps. I remember distinctly John Fought trying to calm me down while on the bus returning. In one of the few times I ever used a swear word while in the Corps (I even turned the infamous quote when passing the 32 into “Gone boot, down with you all” I screamed out, F___ off, Fought!” I can laugh about it now. But that day, I was most definitely not laughing!
Time to stop. While there, I really believed in the Corps, so much so that I did something I had not seen beforehand and I doubt many have done it afterwards: I did not retire or salute out until the day I left Keesler. In fact, my last day there I had bloused out for my salute out, and made sure I did the salute out before I retired so as not to have my boots destroyed until the last possible moment. To me, it was inconceivable that I retire when there were still performances to be had. In fact, the picture I am sending was taken on July 4 - four days before I left. Literally two hours after saluting out, Trish Wallace was taking me to the New Orleans airport.
I have not seen anyone from the Corps since 1984, and last spoke on the phone with this individual in Spring 1987. But the faces and the names still appear before me. And to this day, if you happen to catch me warming up on a drum set and listen closely, you will hear the five cadences as played on the tri-toms. I will never forget the Corps - you can see its impact on me in the way I can remember the actual dates (and days) most of the memories above occurred. The time I was there can never be duplicated. And for that, I will remain grateful for the rest of my life. And if any of you are ever around Seattle, give me a call. I would be more than happy to see you.