By Jeff Ream
If there is one thing about the Westshoremen drum and Bugle Corps that is consistent, it is that the corps had ups and downs every so many years. Despite the lows, the corps has been a VFW, American Legion and DCA World Champion in its history.
Founded in 1946 along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Wormleysburg PA, the corps was originally named the Longshoremen. Many of the founding members were former members of the old Harrisburg Privateers junior corps, which disbanded at the onset of World War II. The corps quickly rose to prominence that first year, placing 4th at VFW finals, concluding with the VFW state titles in 1951, 1952, and 1953, and the VFW National title in 1952. The corps also won the PA VFW title in 1953.Director Jack Kaufman led his troops home victorious, only to find trouble waiting. It seemed the famed union of the same name issues with the usage of that name being used by the corps. The union did indeed sue the corps for misuse of the name and right away the corps changed the name to the Westshoremen, as the post the corps used was on the west bank of the Susquehanna, across from Harrisburg, PA. The union then dropped the lawsuit. Shortly after this, the corps performed for President Eisenhower. They placed 4th at the 1957 VFW finals. Known affectionately as “The Worms” (short for Wormleysburg) represented VFW post 1462. One of the early members is Roger Hall, who invented the breakaway base commonly used in baseball world wide.
During this same time, in Millersburg PA, representing American Legion Post 326, the Bonnie Scots were born. Clad in red kilts and tall black plumes, this corps rose slowly, but surely, and captured the PA State Championship.
In 1959, the corps merged with the Bonnie Scots of Millersburg PA. The seeds had been planted a few months earlier…. membership in both corps was shrinking, and for a while, both reduced their schedules to parades only. Both of the corps were hired to represent fire companies at a parade in Carlisle PA in September 1959. The night before the parade, the decision to merge was made. At the end of the parade, the corps joined ranks and marched back to the beginning of the parade….. and the merger was born! By far the largest corps ever massed in the area, it was quite a sight to see the Bonnie Scots in red kilts and tall black plumes side by side with the Westshoremen, in their blue satin uniforms with black slacks and white shakos.
The decision was made to return to competition, representing both AL post 232, and a new VFW home, post 6704 from Mechanicsburg, PA. The uniforms saw the corps stay in black and blue, but with a sash of red, black and blue to allow the Bonnie Scots tradition to carry on. The 60’s saw not as much competitive success, though the corps did place 2nd at the 1963 and 1966 State VFW championships. The corps competed in Class B, competing against such former greats as the Tyrone Gardner Guards (who the corps finally defeated in 1961), the Hanover Lancers, Emmaus Sentinels, Milton Keystoners, Hershey Choclatiers, and Bangor Yellow Jackets.
The corps joined DCA in 1965, although not attending finals until 1967. Notable names for instructors during this era were John Flowers and Bob Zarfoss for percussion, Frank Ferraro, Skip Groff, Bill Saltzer on brass. The Guard was handled at the time by Pop Hoyer and Barb Flowers.
The director thru this era was T. V. O’Connell, who passed away in 1967. O’Connell passed away on June 23, 1967, while the corps was in Chambersburg, PA, preparing for a competition. With a heavy heart, the corps performed that night, and dedicated the season to their beloved former director. Billy Saltzer took over the reigns of leadership. The season also saw the beginning of the corps “home show”, in Carlisle, PA. “Review of the corps” carried on until 1989.
In 1967, the corps placed 10th at the DCA championships. The show consisted of “ Cabaret”, “You Set My Heart To Music”, “I Believe” and “Love Letters”. In 1968 and 1969, the corps placed 12th at DCA prelims as well as placing 2nd at the 1969 RCA championships. In 1970, the corps placed 11th at DCA prelims and 4th at the 1970 RCA finals. 1971 saw the corps slip to 15th at DCA and 1972 saw them in 14th. After the 1972 season the corps went inactive for 1973. Billy Saltzer was the director until the corps disbanded. Many members, including longtime snare line stalwarts John “Skee” Derr and George “Big daddy Satch” Satchell, left for the Reading Buccaneers, and more such as Wally Ream and Jim Magilton left for the Yankee Rebels.
The corps once again reorganized in early 1974, with Hall of Famer Larry Hershman at the helm. The name was changed to Westshoremen, Inc., and with a dedicated group of veterans, they began the long climb back to DCA finalist status. The uniforms returned to the original Looks, blue satin tops, white shakos and black pants. The corps got off to a late start, not even learning drill until the day after the Hershey Show. The first season produced the corps’ lowest known score, 37.35, in Amherst MA, a week before finals. At prelims, the corps rose to a 41.00 and last place at DCA prelims…. not the results desired, but, back on the field. The membership did not give up…they founded the Serande in Brass indoor concert, and began recruiting many band directors in the area, hoping they would join in as well as their students. Slowly, it began to pay off. In 1975, the corps stayed in 15th place (out of 19 this time) and saw their score jump 22 points. Show selection was “Triumphant March”, “Livin’ for the City”, “Latina” and “My Way” In 1976, the corps rose to 11th place, good for Associate status in DCA, as well as 3rd at the RCA finals. After the season, the corps bought the Blue devils old uniforms, which were almost identical to The corps, the only difference being Black Aussies. 1977 was the corps’ return to DCA finals in 1977 with a 10th place finish. 1978, the corps rose to 9th at DCA, but the crowning moment of the season is when the corps traveled to New Orleans, LA, to compete in the American Legion National Championships, representing the Linglestown, PA post 272. There, the corps competed at the world famous Superdome, and defeated the Chicago Connection 77.00 to 60.45 for the crown. The corps also beat its arch-rivals, the Reading Buccaneers for the first time that season.
1979 began the building of what insiders referred to “where we want to be” status. Show design was improved, as Hershman began recruiting some of the best and brightest: Ric Colletti on percussion, Ray Eyler (who has worked with everybody) and Dave Rohrer (Bluecoats) on Brass. New uniforms were designed, all black with a powder blue sash and plume on a black aussie. With other local corps starting to fall by the wayside, as well as people from around the state deciding to travel to Harrisburg, the corps began to grow. The 1979 season saw a 6th place finish at DCA, the highest yet, and it’s first win in DCA competition ever! The energetic Show started with “Got to Get To It” from Chorus Line, and added “What I did For Love”, “Granada Smoothie”, “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “The Impossible Dream”. The corps also defended their American Legion title by default, as no senior contest was held that year.
1980 saw more improvement, and also one of the corps funniest moments in history. En route to a 5th place finish at DCA finals, the corps was performing their closer of “Impossible Dream”, which included a color pres, and a huge American Flag to be unfurled. Underneath the flag was several drum cases filled with Doves to be released. Only one problem ……the birds, being kept in the dark, refused to fly away, and instead had to be chased off the field. Chief Judge Walter Kelly chased several off by firing the timing pistol, and members came back to retrieve the straggling birds, so the Sunrisers could take the field. The corps also placed 4th at the American Legion Championships. The show consisted of “Journey to the center of the Earth”, “What I Did For Love”, “ Spanish Dreams”, “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “The Impossible Dream”. One of the highlights was the mellophone solos of Sylvia (then Hernandez, for a while Filipelli and now Perbetsky).
1981 saw a disappointing 6th place finish, and staff changes were made. One early season highlight was the corps singing “Music”, but at mid season the singing was removed and a reprise of “The Impossible Dream” was inserted to end the show. “Journey” and “Spanish Dreams” remained, “Big Noise From Winnetka” and a drum solo of “Third Piano Concerto” were added. White capes were also added to the uniform.
For 1982, Frank Dorritie of Blue Devils fame was imported from California to write and teach the horn line. Eric Kitchenman was on the visual staff. Hall of Famer Billy Kauffman, Robb Mueller of Colts later fame on percussion, and even Ralph Hardimon consulted. Drum major Tommy Sipe was featured as a rifle virtuoso. And the corps knew this could be the year. The show was “Blues In The Night”, “Razulli”, “Icarus”, “ Big Noise From Winnetka” and “All The Things You Are”. It was decided that the capes would be dropped. Also, no more skirts for the guard, as males joined the guard. Coming out of the blocks hot and heavy, the corps walked away undefeated until late July, then continued to win several more shows. However, the late surging Sunrisers passed the corps, and while the best finish yet, 2nd place with a tie for high GE was felt to be a disappointment. The season was dedicated to Benny Behrens, long time equipment manager…. he had been with the corps for over 30 years. Also of note, long time member Al Beran was elected to the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame. 1983 again featured many of the same players and a powerful corps, but 4th place was the end result. The show consisted of “Blues” and “All The Things You Are”, with “Everybody Loves The Blues” and “Love For Sale” inserted in the middle. The season was dedicated to Norm Sedlak, a member of the A squad who had come to join the corps after the Yankee Rebels disbanded.
In October, it was announced that the management team was leaving, and all of the equipment was sold to the California Dons JR corps. A group of dedicated members met at a fire hall in Harrisburg, and vowed that day the corps would be back, and even performed at the Serenade in Brass concert in April. Dan Bowman took the reins as director, and brought in John Chamberlin and Dick Eschenmann to help the administrative side of the house. But, things fell apart until late June, when it was decided to field a corps at prelims. The members referred to it as “the six week tour” and in six weeks, got a show on the field, performed as best as could be expected, and ended up in 15th at DCA prelims. The show consisted mainly of songs from 82 and 83, such as “Blues in The Night”, “Big Noise From Winnetka”, and “All The Things You Are”.
In 1985, the corps placed 12th at DCA, falling back to 13th in 1986. The corps also competed in some ICA shows during this time. In 1987, the corps again rose to 12th, with a core group of members that were determined to get the corps back into finals. Show highlights included “Walk him Up The Stairs”, “Johnny One Note”, Big Noise From Winnetka” and “ Music” (with the singing from 1981) and the Impossible Dream”. Steve Filipelli and Chris Poole led the percussion. 1988, a larger corps, with some new staff faces achieved that goal, and the corps placed 7th at DCA finals. The show consisted of “Funeral for a Friend”, Colas Beurgnon Overture”, “Claire’s Song”, “Take the A Train”, and “One Night Only (from Dreamgirls)”. New uniforms were signed: White bib pants, which had a blue top with a white “W” cut into it. White Aussies completed the new look. 1989 saw more change as the corps went to a more modern jazz approach, and hired Dan Delong (Bucs, Shore and Bluecoats) as percussion caption head and John Arietano (Sunrisers, Skyliners, Hurcs) to head the brass. Crossmen legend Mark Thurston arranged for the percussion. To add to the uniform, blue sparkles were added to the “W” outline on the uniform top. The corps lived under the motto of “One More Once” and never knew how good they were until it was over, fighting with Steel City, Empire and the Crusaders all year for the middle of the pack. Playing “Explosion”, “Strawberry Soup” and “Spirit of St. Frederick”, the corps oozed aggressive jazz. When the dust cleared, the corps ended up 5th, cracking 90 for the first time in DCA competition. The percussion section especially was happy, claiming the high execution trophy.
1990 was to be the year. Arientano and Delong remained, and Rich Templin (Shore, Cabs, Sky and Bluecoats fame) and George Thompson were brought in to run the drill and guard. Helmets replaced the Aussie hats, a touch of pink was added to the uniform top, and the guard wore blue spandex with white tops. The show was “Suite For Jazz Orchestra” and “Gershwin: Portrait In Jazz”. The corps was huge, and good. Throughout the season, the corps traded victories with the Caballeros and Empire Statesmen, and won the Scranton Regional. The percussion section had one loss to its name until finals. In fact, the week before finals, the corps had the highest score in all of DCA. But, prelims found the corps in 4th, and finals did not change. The percussion section also ended in 4th. This led to much frustration among the members, and 1991 saw a smaller corps that landed in 7th place at finals. Music selected for the year was “City of Angels”, “Ocean Parkway” and “Bacchanlia”. 1992 saw corps full of talent, but show design issues landed them in 6th. Music was “Taboo”, “Street Dancing”, and “Bues In The Night”. The season and the victory were dedicated to Judy Parfet, the corps long time souvenier person. Former director Larry Hershman was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame this year also. 1993 saw a smaller corps under new director Dan Rippon, as the corps stepped away from jazz to perform the music of Yanni, and despite it’s size, landed in 6th. Percussion was still led by Delong, with John Bugosh and Walt Street handling the brass, Mike Herr and Tim Newlin doing the guard. 1994 saw an even smaller corps, and a show that left members and fans alike confused, and the corps ended up 10th in DCA competition. The show theme was “The Four Seasons” and the music was “First Circle” “Carnival”, “Autumn Leaves” and “Cathedral In A Suitcase”. The season also brought the passing of Al Beran, long time member of the A squad and World Hall of Fame member.
That fall, in October it was decided that the corps was done. Finances were a mess, and the corps was in the red. Director Dan Rippon resigned. However, several members rallied around Jerry Mace, who stated he would take over and get the corps in the title hunt as well as in the black…. and boy did he get the corps in the black. Uniforms that is. When the 1995 edition of the corps debuted at Serenade in Brass, the corps was decked in black head to toe…. and huge! Black shakos, black shirts and overlays, which had a silver sash. Arientano and Delong were back for the music, Terry Martin and Tim Newlin did the drill and guard. The corps served notice they were back, and even the members wondered if a worst to first finish was possible. With a show of “Blues In The Night”, “Strawberry Soup”, “Twilight Tones” and “Suite for Jazz Orchestra”, the corps continued to climb the ladder all season, and again the percussion section lead the way, walking into finals weekend undefeated. The corps entered finals 3rd, .5 behind the Empire Statesmen. The percussion section had a bad prelims show but remained unbeaten ……and on a mission…the corps knew they couldn’t catch the Cabs, but it wanted Empire. That night, at finals, the corps performed the best show in corps history, to leapfrog over Empire for 2nd, and capture the percussion trophy. Yet, this corps wasn’t done.
The corps knew 1996 was its chance, and began in October. The uniform was modified to add a new overlay, which was blue at the top, with silver on the bottom….the dividing line was in the form of a “W”. The staff was back. There was little turnover, and many people tried out for the spots that did exist. The corps show was based on the 50th anniversary of the corps, titled “Suite for Westshore” featured “Granada Smoothie”, “All the Things You Are”, “Explosion”, “Marching Season” By Yanni, “Carnival”, “Suite For Jazz ending” a reprise of “Blues In The Night”, which had snippets of the “Impossible Dream” thrown in. The corps lost early on to the Cabs, and never looked back until late season…in fact, the corps won the famous Barnum Festival, and even won Drum Major in what was known as Cabs turf! Other highlights were winning the Hershey show, which was basically Westshore turf, and many alumni were on hand to celebrate the victory.
In August the corps traveled to Orlando, FL and performed in exhibition at DCI semi finals, earning several standing ovations. The next weekend, the corps tied Empire at Syracuse, making the fight for finals more interesting. DCA prelims found the corps in 2nd, .9 behind the Cabs. Yet, the members dug deep, and managed to come out of Rochester NY with the world title, tying for GE and winning all percussion captions, with a corps record score 96.9, .1 ahead of the Cabs. The impossible Dream had been accomplished…the DCA title was coming home to Harrisburg.
However the off-season was rough on the corps. Many members cited burnout and retired. The management announced the formation of the Westshoremen Cadets Jr. corps, and when membership for the Jr. corps was small, it was announced if you were in the senior corps and under 21, you had to do both. This led to more members, mostly under 21, leaving the corps. To add to the problems, the corps suffered many financial setbacks, one of which saw a member paying for the entire corps to return to PA from Orlando FL. The corps had again been invited to perform at DCI semis, but the buses had been locked due to non-payment. The junior corps, in it’s only year of existence placed 31st at Dci Division 2/3 prelims, with a score of 52.2. In the end, the corps placed 7th at DCA, the staff was fired, and it was decided the junior corps would go on it’s own. Much confusion reigned afterwards, as to who was left in charge, who owned what etc. many threats of legal action were made, and many long time relationships harmed. To say this period more than any other led to the demise of the corps would be an understatement. Many of it’s repercussions are felt today, and some threats of legal action still persist.
Once again, many members banded together to keep the corps going into 1998, with Ann Beck and Bill Toomey leading the administration. Despite a strong showing at Serenade In Brass in April, the corps only participated at the DCA mini corps competition. Many former members retired or left to march elsewhere. The Board of Directors also had large turnover as few could agree on the direction of the corps. 1999 saw the corps back on the field in Class A status, placing 4th, where they would place again in 2000 and 2001. 2002 saw the corps inactive, as it’s few remaining members went to march with the Skyliners, and no plans have been announced for 2003.
The name has become more visible however, due to the formation of the Westshoremen Alumni corps, which performs annually at the Serenade In Brass indoor concert held annually in April. Growing Steadily every year, this past year marked the largest version yet, and arguably, the best performing as well.
Will Westshore return to the field? Many rumors abound. After the late 90’s much equipment is needed, and many local ties need to be repaired. But stranger things have happened in the history of this corps.
Many thanks to: Wally Ream, Rich Sennett, Steve Filipelli, Ron Allard and Chris Maher, Jodeen Popp’s “History of drum corps” and especially Larry Hershman for his allowing me to borrow his Lamberton award winning “ Westshoremen-Bonnie Scots drum and bugle corps” essay
This post has been edited by jeffsnewjetta: 13 April 2004 - 08:08 AM