Watkins Glen, NY United States
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The small town of Watkins Glen in upstate New York started its first drum corps, the Legion Cadets, in 1931. The Cadets were a joint venture of the Boy Scouts and the American Legion, formed to provide a positive musical activity for the village’s boys. In its first year the Cadets marched with 4 drummers and 4 buglers. Throughout the ‘30s the Cadets, as most corps did, took part in numerous local parades and all manner of civic events throughout the Finger Lakes region of Central New York. These events included the usual veterans’ functions, Halloween parades, county fairs, firemen’s carnivals, church and ethnic celebrations and a myriad of other events.
The Cadets made great strides quickly. This account, from an appearance at an encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic (Civil War Veterans) in Rochester in 1934, paints a vivid picture of the impression the Cadets (average age of 13 in their third year) made. “...well dressed drum corps in bright scarlet, blue and grey uniforms performed for the Grand Army men and more than 5,000 Rochesterians and visitors at the outing arranged by the American Legion of Monroe County. The boys of ’61 smiled and applauded and some even marched with the Legion Corps…Five drum and bugle corps followed the Troopers and gave exhibitions in drilling and playing. These were well received as the Veterans remembered their own fife and drum corps and their comrades who paraded with them in natty blue uniforms. As to the Cadets, the Times-Union of Rochester said: “The outfit, however, that drew the most praise from the Veterans was the Legion Cadets of Watkins Glen. Led by 13 year old Jack Withiam, New York State’s Junior Drum Major Champion, they presented an imposing spectacle as they paraded in their sailor uniforms.”
At a performance at an American Legion dinner held in Penn Yan, NY in 1939 the Cadets were broadcast live on radio.
In addition to parades and the like, the Cadets experienced field competition for the first time in 1933 at the New York State American Legion Championship, placing fourth among the four corps field. The Cadets were regular participants in state championship competition and they placed highly in 1935 (fourth of nineteen), 1938 (fourth of twenty-six) and second in 1934 and 1937 in a twenty-two corps line up. In 1940 the corps bought bugles with valves for the first time.
With the onset of World War II, travel was limited and the Cadets’ performances took on a different meaning by helping to maintain the morale of the community. This quote from drum major at the time, Rose Marie Luppino, typifies the mood of the era. “The A.L. (American Legion) Drum Corps played a very big part in keeping the spirits of the whole Watkins Glen area up during the war. We were mostly too young to go off to war – but we stood for patriotism, loyalty, and love of country with the music we played. So we brought a happiness into the community that for a while made everyone forget the apprehension and worry that goes along with war. The most memorable event was the spontaneous parade we led into the center of Watkins and all over the middle of the village in celebration of the ending of World War II. It was bedlam, everyone so happy that the war was over and the men and women would be coming home soon. A wonderful madhouse! The whole town was there.”
After the War the Cadets resumed their pre war routine including two trips to national championship competition in New York City in 1947 (placing thirteenth of nineteen) and Philadelphia in 1949. The trips to big cities and national competition brought excitement for the young people of this small town as per this member’s thoughts. “It was a big thrill for the Cadets to participate in the competition and the parade. When the parade was held, we were marching with the New York State delegation of legionnaires and other drum corps and bands. This was a notable experience to see and listen to the senior drum corps from such New York State cities as Buffalo, Rochester, Geneva, Syracuse, New York City and Albany. Marching along 5th Avenue with thousands of spectators was really something for the “kids” from Watkins Glen … in New York City… with Cardinal Spellman on St. Patrick’s Cathedral steps blessing us as we marched down Fifth Avenue.”
The corps struggled to stay active into the mid 1950s. The Korean War and the formation of a senior corps (The Watkins-Montour Seneca Chiefs) both drew members away. By 1955 waning interest in the corps brought its end. The remaining members closed up shop and officially joined forces with the Seneca Chiefs in June of 1955.
Watkins Glen’s American Legion Cadets proudly served its community, its members and in a very real way, its country throughout its twenty-four year tenure. In the fall of 1964 two former members, Chuck Calhoun and Carl Isley (now with children of their own) along with Vern Alling (Geneva Appleknocker veteran) started another junior corps in Watkins Glen, the Squires. Many sons and daughters of the Cadets, a new generation, became members of the Squires.
The above was culled from the book “Echoes in the Valley,” an extensive, 226 page/268 picture paperback history covering the drum corps activity in Watkins Glen, New York from 1931 through 1981. In addition to its coverage of the Legion Cadets and Seneca Chiefs, “Echoes” traces the history of the Watkins Glen Squires from their humble beginnings in the sixties through early eighties as the Squires became four time New York State Champions, a finalist in major national and DCI Regional contests and nearly DCI finalist in 1975.
For more information about “Echoes in the Valley” or Watkins Glen drum corps contact the author, Jud Spena, at email@example.com