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Memory #1 - My Introduction to the Band of Gold, by Joe Donahey

posted Jul 21, 2012, 7:28 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Jul 22, 2012, 6:32 AM ]
During the month of August 1973, if memory serves me correctly, Tena and I were in Miami to visit a couple who had been friends of hers for years but were new acquaintances for me. We had been out to dinner on Friday, had a long evening of getting to know each other and were enjoying a late lazy Saturday morning over coffee and pastries. Conversation began again between the three of them, reminiscing about their old days in Miami where they all worked together. While they were so engaged, with me half-listening, I was randomly pursuing the Miami Herald. My eye caught an advertisement that was to change my life significantly. There it was, an advertisement announcing the Finals of the American Legion National Championship Drum and Bugle Contest that night in The Orange Bowl.

My automatic response was a loud announcement, “I don’t know what the rest of you are doing tonight, but for me, I’m going to the Orange Bowl.” I expected some grumbling, but much to my surprise, my new friend Ted, after learning what had prompted the outburst, said, “I’ll be right there with you, I played a snare drum in a Junior Drum Corps and have not seen a contest in years.”

So you understand the significance of this, please know that I first joined a Drum and Bugle Corps in November 1941 when I was seven and a half years old. I march and played in the State College American Legion Junior Drum and Bugle Corps, Nittany Post 245 every year, at least every summer until I was nineteen years of age. I loved Drum Corps, but I had no time for the high school bands, which for the most part could neither play nor march.

The ladies were very accommodating, and after an afternoon of Drum Corps story swapping and anticipation growing by the minute, off we went to the Orange Bowl.

We were there an hour early, with great seats on the forty-five yard line, treating our wives to sumptuous repast of Orange Bowl hot dogs and soft drinks and growing more and more excited by each passing minute. I had not seen a Drum Corps in twenty years; I just could not wait! After a very long wait, the stadium began to fill and official looking people began to appear on the field. Finally, it looked as if a twenty-year hunger was about to be satisfied. At long last, the sound system was turned on and the M.C. finally began. He, of course, had a whole list of acknowledgements to get out of the way. Thanking the National Commander and State Commander for a wonderful convention, the Mayor for having them to the beautiful city of Miami, thanking the police for their assistance and on he droned. It seemed like it would never end. The thought running through my mind was “C’mon! I came to hear Drum Corps, not listen to you!” At last, the seemingly never ending drone came to an end. Finally, those long awaited words,“Ladies and Gentleman, now for you viewing and listing pleasure, we have in exhibition the BAND that won this year’s National Championship.”

It was like a solid right to the solar plexus. “An exhibition by a high school band? You’ve got to be kidding! I came here to hear Drum Corps!” Perhaps I should interrupt with some facts that you may or may not already know. First, I graduated from Largo High School in 1952. Secondly, in the fall of 1951and the spring of 1952 I was the drill instructor for the Largo High School Band, then under the Directorship of Eddie Edwards. They had agreed to compete in the 1952 Festival of States in St. Petersburg. At that time they did not have a field show competion, only a Parade competition. I prepared a little street drill for them to be done while passing in review and believe it or not that is when Largo won its first Festival of States Championship. The competition then was nothing like what you became familiar with years later.

BACK TO MIAMI… I was deflated and frustrated to say the least, my hunger to see and hear a Drum Corps was going to be delayed even longer while I had to suffer through a high school band performance, if you would be able to call it that. The announcer went on “ And now the American Legion proudly presents from Largo High School, in Largo, Florida the Band of Gold.”You can only imagine my shock and exclamation. “Hey, I went to Largo High School. What are they doing here? They have no band!”Remember, at the time I was living just up the road in Clearwater and practicing law. But as the words left my mouth I caught my first glimpse of a startling site. Those gold shirts, the shakos, the plumes, the white spats, the color guard, the rifles, the flash flags, the lancers, the Drum Major and the players. I simply could not believe what I was seeing. The last time I had seen this high school band they were still wearing their officer hats and their blue suit coats, white pants and white shoes, awe inspiring it was not. Well then, what was this I was seeing? I still could not believe it was a band from my high school. I fell into confused silence, and that was not a frequent occurrence in those days. Confused perhaps, but almost never silent.

The introduction was completed and this band was set up on the goal line at the left end of the field which was the drum corps style of the day. AND THEN THEY BEGAN…I was just blown away. I applauded, cheered and babbled my astonishment, joy and pleasure to my companions. I kept saying, “I don’t believe this. They’re wonderful! They play like a great band, but they march and look like a championship Drum Corps. How could this be?” Sitting right next to me was the answer. My wifeTena said, “Why are you surprised; don’t you know who the band director is now?” I had not a clue. “Well,” she continued, “he’s Bob Cotter, I knew him when I lived here in Miami, and he was involved in drum corps”.My new friend Ted said,” I can’t believe it, I played for Bob!”I kept raving on about what we had just witnessed, and then my wife made that life altering statement. “Would you like to meet him?”

Answer, “I certainly would”! We came down out of the stands; Tena got her old friend’s attention and introduced us on the sidelines of the Orange Bowl. It was a brief meeting, but I loved what I had seen, and this guy and I immediately found we had shared some similar corps experiences back in Pennsylvania and he said, “Why don’t you drop by the band room some day and lets talk some more.” Some months later, I did just that, and then it all began for me… ah, but that’s another memory to be shared at another time.

God Bless… Joe “Old Yellow Pad”Donahey