Inside the Arc – Horns, Drums, and Gratitude

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Normandy Paratrooper (credit: US Army Signal Corps)

It’s just barely visible and you can miss it even after you know it’s there. Still, if you’ve ever seen one, it’s unmistakable…

How old can he be, that young man with the far-away expression, standing near the doorway of the DC-3, sometime around midnight on that fateful evening? Surely he could still qualify to march a DCI Finals, had those things been invented yet.

That would have to wait however, until he had jumped into Normandy, fought his way across Europe with a different kind of corps, saved the world and come home with his buddies to give Drum Corps to the rest of us…

She was a farm girl from Iowa, just about as far away from the ocean as a girl can get in this country. Naturally, she joined the Navy. She really wanted to be a parachutist, but it was a bit early for girls to be doing that in the Marines.

Mary and Bob Stratton – 1944 (credit: author’s personal collection)

Still, they sent her to school for parachute rigging. It’s difficult to say how many lives of Navy airmen were saved over the Pacific because of her skill, but afterwards, she and her Army husband had five children: a nurse, a bugler, a drummer/drill writer and two rifles, those last four becoming National Champions, as performers, teachers and/or judges…

It’s true that the US drum corps movement had actually begun after an earlier war, when the Legion and VFW organized these amateur groups at the post level to accompany their members in parades at conventions, but the notion and the energy to provide that experience for youth really took off with the notorious Baby Boom. Something had to be done with these kids, after all.

And it took monumental energy and dedication, two qualities these veterans had in spades, if that saving the world thing was any indication. After that, saving so many of us (literally) seemed eminently doable…

Normandy Bugler (credit: US Army Signal Corps)

A few days after D-Day, in front of a 48-star flag, an Army bugler played taps at a memorial service near the place where many of his comrades had fallen. His features give evidence of his youth, the M-1 slung over his shoulder of his “day job”.

The bugle looks a bit odd. It’s not shiny. That’s because it’s made of plastic by a government contractor named Aman. By this time, all the brass was needed for shell casings…

Plastic Bugle designed by Frank Aman (credit: from the author’s collection)

Pay particular attention to the mouthpiece, then have another look at the photo of the young paratrooper. He’s carrying a lot of gear into France; and just barely visible, poking out from behind the right edge of his reserve chute, just above the coil of rope, is the mouthpiece of an Aman bugle.

I hope to all that’s holy that he made it through Normandy and the other trials that followed and that he came home and played in a drum corps. Who knows? Maybe he even started one. When I look at his face, it’s clear that many thoughts are running through his mind. Perhaps, even if just for a second, one of those was the bugle.

November 11th is Veteran’s Day. For drum corps folks, it might as well be called G-Day, capital G…for “Gratitude”.


About the Author:
Frank Dorritie is one of the legends of the activity .... a performer, instructor, arranger, adjudicator, and observer over the past 5 decades. Frank has been playing the bugle and trumpet since the 1960s, and has performed with artists like Billy Cobham and Maynard Ferguson. He has instructed and/or arranged for the Blue Devils, Cadets, Santa Clara Vanguard, Cavaliers, Chesterton and Tenri High Schools, the Bushwackers, Bridgemen and a host of others. His audio production honors include 9 Grammy Nominations, 2 Grammy Awards and membership in both the World Drum Corps and Buglers Halls of Fame. He is active internationally as a clinician and adjudicator, holds the DCA Soprano/Trumpet/Tenor Individual titles for 2003, 2005 and 2006. Frank also chairs the Department of Recording Arts at Los Medanos College. His popular brass method book, “Power and Endurance”, is available from The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.

Posted by on Thursday, November 9th, 2017. Filed under FrontPage Feature, Inside the Arc.