This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Drum Corps World.
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It is likely that many drum corps in North America marched in one or more Memorial Day parades this year. However, there is only one corps that performed and was also an integral part of the ceremony for the veterans post that has sponsored them for 78 years.
Since 1932, the Archer-Epler Musketeers have participated in the annual ceremony at American Legion/VFW Post #979 in Upper Darby, PA. Not only does the corps perform during the unique dual American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars tribute to veterans, but marching members actively participate in segments of the traditional activities, including placing wreaths in honor of those who have served our country, speeches and commentary on the history of the holiday and the roll call of both post and corps members who have passed on the previous year.
“Through the years, many of the marching members of this corps were in one or both of the service organizations,” noted present corps director, Dr. Mark Fulcomer.
“This post and this corps are truly a marching family. Our inspiration and our identity come from being an important part of the Archer-Epler Post history. Memorial Day is our most important performance each year, one where we honor our country’s servicemen and also our fallen fellow corpsmen,” said Dr. Fulcomer.
The post derives its name from two World War I veterans, Joseph Archer and Roston Epler, both killed in the line of duty. It is the only service post to have the same number (979) for both the Legion and the VFW.
Charles Coffman, corps member and senior vice-commander for the VFW, laid a wreath in front of the post sign as part of the VFW portion of the ceremony.
“The drum corps has participated in some aspect of the Memorial Day ceremonies, both as a junior corps before WWII and as a senior corps following the war. It is a commitment we honor each year as a tribute to our home post and to all those who served our country and who died in war,” said Coffman.
Former corps member Bill “Rip” Bernert, who instructed the horn line during the 1950s and 1960s and also instructed during that time the famed Audubon Bon-Bons all-girl junior corps from New Jersey, recalled that for many years the Musketeers would perform at the actual grave sites of Archer and Epler in Upper Darby.
“I remember playing Fine and Dandy as we exited the cemetery one year; it didn’t quite fit, but we were always there, year after year, doing our part for the post,” recalled Bernert.
This year, the Musketeers’ performance included the traditional hymn Abide with Me, a song from “The King and I,” Lord and Master, the Broadway score long associated with the Musketeers since their popular and innovative performance of the musical in 1957, and, of course, Stars and Stripes Forever, a perennial Archer-Epler favorite.
American Legion Post Commander and VFW Quartermaster and Service Officer Bob Gorman, also in the corps’ honor guard, annually sums up for the audience the history of how the poppy became associated with this day and also recites from memory the famous “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army.
“I am privileged to honor those who have died for our country. Many in my family, including myself and many of my fellow corpsmen, served our country in combat, but we survived. I feel blessed that I can say I knew what it [service] was all about and lived to be a part of today’s activities.” Gorman has been doing this ceremony for 26 years.
“I am honored to do this ceremony,” echoes drum major of the Musketeers, Sgt. [Charlie Co. 555TB] Patrick Taylor, who has served two tours in the Gulf conflict. “It is the least I can do, considering what so many have done here at this post before me. My 30 years in drum corps have taught me respect for this day,” he said.
The Musketeers’ youngest member, Kathleen Dougherty, a graduating senior at Upper Darby High School, was clearly moved by the day’s events.