Memories of...The Drum and Bugle Corps

Scott Smith



We, the proud few, prefer to be known as members of the inaugural USAF Academy Cadet Drum & Bugle Corps, heretofore represented by the USAF Academy Drum & Bugle Corps (a group of talented enlisted musicians).  

We formed in the fall of 1971, thanks to the efforts of Al Howey, Class of ‘73, who was our first Corps Commander.  

The few who survived being in the D&B all four years include:  

Wayn "Rat-man" Nelson [rudimental bass]; Rini ("the ___", but I guess I'd better not say this one) Bosma [triple toms]; Walt (Ray) Johnson [trumpet]; myself [snare drum] and...I know I am leaving a few out, but it’s late.  

I can remember practicing routines the fall of '71 with no instruments (they had not arrived yet and we were extremely concerned that they might not arrive before our first "gig" at halftime). I know this'll get some kidding, but we worked damn hard to build a solid reputation for "The Flight of Sound" and have watched our successors build on that basis to become a premier D&B known around the nation. We played in pretty funky places (shopping mall parking lot on south Nevada...yep, you got that right!) just to get people to know we even existed. 

I remember changing into parade dress uniforms for a 7-mile parade at Randolph AFB immediately after getting off the airplane. I remember the drum-line (at that time also including Roy Rice) the next day being somewhat under the weather for that day's parade having emptied several BOQ mini-bars of their supplies. All-in-all, time well spent with some of the most dedicated and talented friends/cadets you could ever hope for. 

Call me silly, but I had a great time at the zoo, thanks in no small measure to having spent a lot of time with the "Beaters and Blowers." (June 2008)

Al Howey ('73)


I don't know if there's any written history of the formation of the D&B. Probably not. It is an interesting story though. I even have an 8-mm movie of the first halftime show somewhere in the house. 

It was a joint effort between me and my 1973 classmate Chuck Ambrose. Chuck deserves the credit for planting the seed in the spring of 1971. At the time, there was only a very weak cadet pep band. I played trumpet and Chuck played trombone.  

He had a meeting with the Supt, Lt Gen Albert Clarke, about some academic issues around mid-term in the spring semester, and Chuck switched the subject to the possibility of a cadet D&B. After the meeting, he told me about that the Supt was interested, so together we surveyed the cadet wing and found that a large number of cadets had played brass or percussion instruments in high school. After reporting our findings, the general allocated money and a NCOIC, MSgt Greg Lykens, to the project.  

Over the summer, MSgt Lykens developed the drill and Chuck and I recruited players. Not too many upperclassmen were interested, so it was almost all 4-degrees. In fact, the majority of the cadet wing thought we were a joke and we were the objects of constant derision. 

When the fall semester started, it was as Scott Smith recalled. We had no instruments, were allowed only two cadets per squadron (80 total) and were prohibited from having a flag corps. We rehearsed the drill without instruments and were laughed at by other cadets. We finally received our Olds bugles sometime in September and had to learn to play them and then memorize the music. None of us had ever played bugles before! They had one piston valve and one rotary valve, so there were a few chromatic notes we couldn't play. 

Our first halftime show was at the AF-Army game, I think. It was in early October. When we lined up in the end zone, the entire Cadet Wing laughed at us. But we played a decent show and by the end, the cadets were cheering us.  

They still didn't accept us very well though. Almost all the upperclassmen in the corps were pretty much shunned by their squadrons. No cadet Lt Col rank for the corps commander!  

We had one 1972 cadet, and he was the official commander that fall, but he ran the 1972 yearbook and he was the D&B commander in name only. I was the de facto commander that year. Chuck was the commander during the summer and for a while the next fall, followed by one of our drummers, Bill Naumann, and then by me towards the end of the football season. I commanded for the rest of the year ... as a cadet 2Lt! 

Chuck Ambrose is the real "father" of the Cadet D&B. My biggest claim is as a co-founder with him. (June 2008)

Wayn Nelson

I was also a charter member of the Drum & Bugle Corps. I joined primarily to escape the Zoo, but I also enjoyed the music.  

Some enjoyable events were the Broncos game in Denver, Notre Dame, and the Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio. Another highlight was beer, donuts and chocolate milk for breakfast after a rough night in Tampa. 

I continued my musical career playing spoons and washboard in the Trash Haulers Wire Horn Symphonic Orchestra at Clark AB in the Philippines. I still play percussion occasionally with our church choir. 

The D&B was a great time with a great bunch of guys. (June 2008)

Ben Bosma

I joined the Drum and Bugle Corps primarily to get the heck off campus as a Doolie. We got to go to away games with the Football team.  We traveled the country and I had no interest in getting out of it because it was the best-kept secret at USAFA. 

Some highlights include partying with the University of Arizona cheerleaders, doing donuts in the parking lot with the 1-1/2 ton truck, marching at parades in far off places like Pasadena, Minneapolis, New York, Florida and St. Louis. The Drum and Bugle Corps set the standard for half time performances that influenced bands to this day. When we played our show for the Oregon Ducks the home band refused to take the field after the standing ovation we got. No one ever heard that much sound, that kind of precision from a bunch of “college kids.” We even blew away the fabled Notre Dame band on their home field! I think everyone at the zoo secretly knew we were pretty good at what we did despite being the ultimate nerdy thing to do as a cadet.  

Our advisor was Major Pete Bernstein whom I later ran into at Tucson International Airport when we were getting checked out in A7Ds. We even flew out to the range together a few times. He remembered busting me Scott, Wayn and Walt (GBNF) for curfews, driving those trucks on sidewalks, and mainly fraternizing with the underclassmen too much. We were closer to those NCOs and Maj. Pete than our own AOCs. 

But, the most significant memory for me was that as Corps Commander my first class year I was responsible for coordinating airlift for the Corps. I worked with the 3-striper in Chappie James’ office at Peterson Field. One weekend late in our senior year she asked me if I would escort her sister for an evening because she had to work. Her sister flew out to visit from North Carolina. She was an RN with no knowledge of USAFA and had not a clue what a cadet was. We had a great time that evening and were married 5 months later. She remains the most important person in my life and is my date tonight to a Doobie Brothers/Chicago Concert. I still play in a band and did a wedding this weekend! The 3-striper is, of course, my sister in law and is now practicing law with a large firm in NC.  

We all turned out OK. (June 2008)

Roy Rice

I was a drummer in the inaugural USAF Academy Cadet Drum & Bugle Corps. I remember the tryouts our rookie summer. There was a heck of a lot of musical talent at those tryouts. Some of my fondest memories at the Zoo were with the D&BC. The “Drumline” was a very close group…we had a lot of fun and contributed a lot to the overall success of the Corps.  

Some of the trips our rookie year were great…San Antonio was a hoot! Parades and Noon Meal Formations were also proud moments. I remember losing a shoe in the mud on the Parade Field one Saturday. 

Our sophomore year, I was “asked to leave” the D&BC by the D&BC Cadet Commander and Wing Staff. One day, with no notice, Wing Staff called the entire D&BC to a SAR on the Terrazzo level to conduct a “surprise haircut inspection” because we were going on a trip. They had never insisted on inspecting our haircuts before.  

I “protested” in my own gentle way…arguing that other “teams/clubs” didn’t have to do this. I asked penetrating questions like, “Are you going to inspect the Football Team’s haircuts before they go to play their next ‘away game’?”  “Are you going to inspect the Cadet Chorale’s hair the next time they go off campus to sing?” You get the drift.  

I was told to just shut up, do as I was ordered, and submit to the inspection. As hard as I’m sure it is for you to believe it, I continued to “gently protest”. Finally, a member of Wing Staff stepped up to write me up on a Form 10 for “insubordination”.  I must have lost my balance and it appeared that I “lunged” for the Wing Staffer. A couple of guys from the D&BC stepped between us to “keep me from falling on the guy”.  

At that point, I got 2 Form 10s and was “asked to leave” the D&BC. I hated to leave the D&BC because it was something I was very proud of. For the remainder of our stay at the Zoo, I continued to support the D&BC and, from a distance, shared in their tremendous contributions and successes. 

“Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.” It still makes the hair on my neck stand up!!!!! (June 2008)

Chuck Ambrose ('73)



My main concern at my meeting with Gen. Clark going into the session was that I had set a record for the highest GPA drop in the young history of the Academy – thanks to the brass chorale being attached by Roger Boyd to every choral group he directed (I think we were more TDY than in class for the first half of the 1971 spring semester; and I dropped my grade more than a point by the mid prog report in the spring). Imagine the pucker factor as a Third Degree when the CQ tells you the 3-Star wants to see you ASAP! 

My shift of the topic to the D&B was, therefore, somewhat defensive, but I actually walked out of a potential ass-chewing session with a commitment from the Supe for the horns, drums and our two NCO instructors – Greg Lykens and the drum guy, whose name I can't remember.  

My Dad, a career art professor, came up with the "Flight of Sound" name and initial logo. Greg Lykens did some very nice initial arrangement (working on a melodica, since he didn't have a piano). Did a lot of the horn teaching, being our best blower, and I growled at people who weren't serious enough about practicing, which led to Lykens elevating me to drum major for a couple of marching seasons. 

I agree that the whole thing was kind of an outgrowth of our brass chorale and stage band. Gen Clark initially asked me about a Cadet Band instead of a D&B Corps, but I told him, I think accurately, that we probably couldn't come up with more than a handful of reed tweeters in the whole wing. Kind of a weird way to get something off the ground, but as they say necessity is the mother of invention, and I needed to invent something to explain my GPA plunge (I got it back up to respectability by the end of the semester). 

I have to give a nod of maturity and thanks to my fellow CS-24 Phantoms, who were actually very supportive of our efforts from the start. I fondly remember standing out front of the D&B during noon meal formations, and returning CS-24 commanders’ salutes as they marched by. Our AOC, Maj. Frank Black, was great with his support, also. 

We had some rough times with some of the command staff, too. I don't believe that the Director of the Academy Band was fully supportive of the Cadet Corps at the time, since he could see the writing on the wall about losing the enlisted D&B Corps if we succeeded. He graded Lykens down on his evaluation on training ability, which was absurd, given what he accomplished with us. I also had some run-ins with some AOC's and Lykens' replacement, McCurdy, when they changed the rules on us in mid-stream (enlisted advisors vs. commanders), which actually forced me to leave the group for a time. But Al held it together and kept it going. Gen. Clark can be credited with the support and direction that overcame the other obstacles. 
I've seen the D&B a couple of times since. Very proud of it. 
One other story, related to the Fiesta Flambeau Parade in San Antonio mentioned in Scott's email below. Gen Simler from then-ATC was the parade marshal that year.  We were forming up in advance of the parade, across the street from three-hundred obnoxious drunks who referred to themselves as the Univ. of Texas marching band, and who kept playing that obnoxious fight song with all the trombone smears in it. Gen Simler came over and asked me (the Drum Major, wearing parade dress with a beret, sashes and gauntlet gloves – I looked like the doorman to a New Orleans brothel) if we could "beat that" (the UT fight song).  

Lykens had arranged this blood-curdling Spanish march for us called "Vaquero," so we lined up our 60 bugles and 20 drummers and – since bugles can play louder than regular trumpets, especially when powered by physically conditioned men from 7500 feet training environs – blew the UT band into oblivion, breaking a couple of windows in the area, I think. 
Gen. Simler was so impressed that he switched us in the Parade marching order. We got to go first, and the Longhorns got to march behind all the horses (you can guess what that means in terms of watching your step). 
After an incredibly long parade route, I turned around and saw that our snare guys' hands were bleeding from all the ruptured blisters. Scott, Bill Halsey, and the rest had never thought about complaining. I wanted to hug 'em all. We'd come quite a ways. (August 2008)

Scott Smith

Al is too modest. My apologies to Chuck Ambrose; I had completely forgotten about him but I now remember his contributions as being vital to our success.  

I did not know about the 2 per squadron bit, so now our "limit" of 80 cadets in the D&B makes sense. I think Gen AP Clarke remembers our first away-game half time performance at CU (not exactly friendly territory at that time) for an incident (apocryphal?) that happened shortly after we left the field. If the "story" is true, it explains why we never renewed the USAFA-CU contract for the home-away football series.  

Memories of bringing the Notre Dame crowd to their feet after our performance, after entering the home field to their boos and laughter, still gives me goose bumps. They went quiet as we were half-way into our first song and remained so until we played the Air Force Song, then burst into applause until we had left the field. Man, what a feeling!   

Loved going down to the hockey game with a small horn and drum contingent, especially at the CC games, to root on Gerry Micheletti and the rest of the team (never watched a hockey game in my life until son now plays forward and goalie).  

Lots of memories, almost exclusively good about the D&B. I agree with Al (who, by the way, still plays the horn; in fact, with a local jazz band he helped found) that we were the objects of derision, but we persevered. I am very proud of that.  

I did benefit from Al and Chuck's effort and wore Cadet Lt Col rank while with the D&B in the Spring of 1975 as their Corps Commander.  

Thanks, Al & Chuck! 

PS:  I'm dying laughing here, Chuck! I did not know about the switch in the marching order, but I do distinctly remember that particular UT "Competition."  

That stupid revolving bass drum sounded like a dead longhorn hitting the pavement after being dropped from a C-54 at 500 ft. I was Sooooooo proud of our dignified and quality response by "out-musicianing" them.  

By the way, I have several UT friends now and I rib them like this all the time. They can take it, not sure they could have then. LOL. 

'75 Best Alive! (August 2008)




15 October 1971

December 1971

29 March 1974



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