40th anniversary of the year the then Garfield Cadets went co-ed. As we hear from DCI's Dan Potter in today's Field Pass, the entire 1969 Cadets' color guard was inducted into the corps' Hall of Fame over the weekend.
credit Dan Potter, DCI Field Pass: .
I glanced at the calendar today, noticed the date and a little smile
came to my face........for some reason I thought back to a similar day
some 41 years ago. Why? I'm not sure other than July 4th was always
one of "those special days" in the life of a Drum Corp member,
especially if you marched with The Holy Name/Garfield Cadets.
In July, 1967 we were well into our season having already competed
since Mid-May and ´67 thus far had not been much of a change from the
´66 season except for the Shriner's show in Toronto where we placed a
respectable 4th, losing to Boston, The Cavies and Opti, we beat the
Kilties and few others and were given a ´Good" review by most, but
especially by the packed Stadium in Toronto. Since the Scout House
days we always had that great Canadian following and that day they let
us know how much they enjoyed us.
The Cadets' 1967 Season Program Book Cover. click on photo to enlarge. Photo submitted by Bill Traina
Before I finish my story on July 4th, a little Retrospective please,
for the younger amongst us: 1966 had pretty much been as much a
disaster as the '64 & '65 seasons together been successful. In '64 we
had won our 10th National Title and in '65 while not bringing home the
AL Title(losing to the Royal-Airs, who even God and the twelve
Apostle's couldn't beat that year) we had a pretty good season with
some 17 wins,(10 in a row) and a State AL Title. But in '66,
age-outs, the draft and constant changes in the Administration had
brought the corp to it's worst season since '59. The age of the corp
decreased dramatically in '66 and the loss of all but three of our
great '65 solo-soprano line hurt terribly, but the biggest difference
I believe was the loss of Uncle Eddie our new Director and long time
Quartermaster. His Cancer has gotten progressively worse since the
summer of 1965. He never even made the trip to the Al Nat'ls in
Portland, Oregon with us and that's when we found out how bad he
really was doing. Uncle Ed passed early the following year as did
many of those who worked at Raybestos-Manhattan(no one knew of the
dangers of Asbestos back then). The Corp administration fell to
several people who tried the best they could, but somehow never made
that connection with the Corp members and THAT was the critical loss.
Our Staff remained pretty much the same as the 64-65 seasons with
Jimmy Costello doing drill, Les Parks, drums and Hy Dreitzer, Brass,
but something changed. Horn rehearsals were not going well and Hy
Dreitzer was a different person in '66, he seemed much more distant to
us, he eventually stopped showing up at rehearsals and at one of our
first outdoor Monday night rehearsals he came by and announced he was
quitting and simply left. By that time though a number of us knew
that it was best, he had simply lost confidence in us and we in him.
At one winter rehearsal he had started really bearing down on one of
the French Horn players actually picking up a horn and playing a
contested phrase over and over again into this young man's ear at FFFF
volumes. I was four spots away in the Bari line and my ears rang for
an hour, I don't know how that horn player stood it, but at that point
I had lost a lot of respect for that man. He didn't need to embarrass
that player that way, nor did he need to punish his hearing. The rest
of the '66 season saw us fall to Corp's that would have never expected
to beat us, but we beat ourselves and the low point was the 19th place
finish at the VFW Nationals. Leadership seemed to vanish while
everything that could have gone wrong did that year, the corp staff
even forgot to register us to compete at the VFW's and since we were
the last to register we were given the "honor" of competing FIRST at
the preliminaries. Couldn't blame that one on Tony Schlecta.
Following that dismal performance, Jimmy D'Amico who took over as Horn
Instructor, rallied the Corp, some Alumni came back to fill-in slots
and expand us to 38 horns and we went on to the Al Nat's in
Washington, DC where we finished in 6th Place, losing to the
Royal-Airs(again) for the 5th place and last Finals spot, but by only
a few tenths! We had throughly believed we would make the top five
and probably would have, had we not short stepped the OTL, we actually
stopped on the 40 yd line! throwing off our entire GE Visual scores
and barely it making Off the Field before going overtime! So the year
ended with little fanfare, but with hope for the future.
1967 was looking much better, after early struggles, Jimmy D'Amico
stepped up and took over the Corp as Director and Horn Instructor
which we all viewed as positive. The Arranger slot was tested by a
number of people including Jimmy, Bobby Bunce and finally by Truman
Crawford. Truman's arrangements were nothing like anything Garfield
had EVER played before. They challenged us at every level and at
every position. No longer were even the 3rd bari parts for lessor
players. We struggled and slowly became better players, but we still
had the "Phrasing problems" as the jazz idiom just never seemed right.
That changed in late June/early July,......... and in just the span of
one hour under Truman Crawford's tutelage, we learned all we had
forgotten since "The Donald" had left.....not the phrasing, but the
meaning of Command and Control. Sgt. Major(at that time)Crawford was
an imposing figure, tall, lean, smoked a cigarette like the Gestapo
Colonel in "Casablanca" and yet spoke in a quiet dignified manner that
let ALL of us know what his expectations were and how disappointed he
was in us as Cadets! That's one dressing down I NEVER wanted to relive!
1967 Garfield Cadets And Officers. click on photo to enlarge. Photo submitted by Bill Traina
That ONE rehearsal did more for that hornline, did more for the psyche
of our entire Corp than any other single instance in my memory. We
were Holy Name again! and were about to prove it shortly. Oh, yes and
Truman corrected most all the phrasing issues. It's too bad he only
had one other practice with us the entire year as the leaps we made
could have been staggering if only we could have afforded the extra
costs of his instruction.
July 4th started off like every other July 4th for the Corp. in the
'60's. Two parades and two exhibitions in the morning, practice
during the hottest part of the day followed by a contest at night, but
this year we were back in Union City, NJ for The 4th of July
Spectacular and Union City has been a very "special" place for
Garfield and Fireworks. We won't go into that today, but you can ask
some of the early '60's Vets about Union City and what Drum Corp was
like back in the days.
After all the early shows and the afternoon practices we were
physically exhausted and frankly a little down on ourselves again as
we boarded our bus to Union City only to learn that by the luck of the
draw we were on second, (which is not where you want to be if you're
seriously competing as we learned at the VFW's the prior August). The
despair got so bad, some on the Bus were actually praying for rain so
the contest could be cancelled! But as we got closer to Union City a
sense of anger starting showing itself and the complacency gave way to
a sense of righteous indigence. We were getting mad at ourselves for
letting what we could NOT control, control us again, so we started
challenging ourselves and each other to perform and play like we had
done for Truman earlier in the week. The level kept intensifying with
each "side" of the Corp challenging the other for the highest
leg-lift, the drumline would out-execute the hornline, bets were being
laid(never to paid, but bragging rights were always fun). We were
whipping ourselves into a frenzy unlike none I had ever experienced!
By the time we hit the starting line there was a level of electricity
running throughout the Corp that made even the hairs on the back of my
neck stand at attention. These next 11 minutes were going to be
SPECIAL! The electricity had begun to flow thru the Corp and out into
the crowd, but it was soon to start in the skies above!
The first note of the opening fanfare had always been a bit of a tell
for us in the hornline.......it was a French Horn lead-in for the rest
of the fanfare to "The Man of La Mancha" ......a simple 7 note rip
that almost always started with a frac........but not that
night........it was there....strong, tight and with an accent to the
mental strength of lips behind that attack. The show had just
started, but the push just kept building. The first 16 steps off the
line were typically company fronts and we nailed it, the pinwheels,
the Drum Solo's, the Hornline just kept getting tighter and tighter
and the crowd sensed it and rewarded us with thunderous
applause........that set-up the wildest feedback loop I ever
experienced, it seemed unending, finishing "Johnny" with the Parade
Rest slap of the horn against the Breast Plate and buttons sounded
like a Clap of Thunder(maybe it was?). Even the Concert of "Mame"
brought wild audience applause............and then it
started.............the rain, Oh the rain........and the
Thunder.....the crowd that was not under the vast overhang in the 'L'
shaped Stadium was getting up and moving back under the cover, but not
leaving.......... we just stood our ground and played the bells off of
those G-D horns. The crowd heard this and exploded to yet a higher
level. With the Concert finished we marched backfield to the strains
of "March Bravura" one of Truman's arrangements that just invited the
next round of feedback...... lightning..........lightning and
thunder.....lightning, thunder and buckets of rain and just as we
turned around and charged the Stands in our company front, lightning
flashes nearly blinded us followed by a thunderous crack that we would
not allow to overpower our hornline. As we raced towards the stands
in the company front I never before or since experienced a crowd
whipped into such a screaming, foot-stomping frenzy as I saw and heard
in those few seconds. Next I knew, we were in our Off the Field
number and all I could think of was seeing Aunt Nellie at the Finish
Line worrying about the plumes, the Maroon Cadet Jacket colors running
onto the Cream slacks(these were our first New Uniforms since 1960!),
but the show wasn't finished yet...........being an 'L' shaped
stadium, we played our exit number marching into the stands again,
filled with locals who probably never saw many drum corp shows but
were the most enthusiastic and appreciative audiences in the history
of Drum Corps. Again the foot-stomping applause and we were not about
to disappoint them with a quiet exit number, but "It's Today" from
Mame that let the soprano line and the Mellophones 'Scream' a little
and scream they did, right into the ending crescendo...........it was
done, a memory seared into my consciousness.....those that marched it,
will never, ever forget it...........this is what Drum Corp was all
about.....what a rush...... what a feeling of
accomplishment.....marching and playing next to people that just a few
short months ago you never knew, yet you did this as though you were a
single entity.....we were.....we were the HOLY NAME CADETS of
Garfield, New Jersey!
As we raced to the stands to escape the rain, the realization hit that
our "perfect" performance might just go for naught as the contest
could now be cancelled!...........our first chance for a win in two
years was about to evaporate into the same sky that gave us the
courage to perform beyond our abilities. They say, be careful what
you wish(pray) for as you just may get it!
The rain let up a little, the Muchacho's performed and it started
again, St Lucy's tried to start but the sky above was not to allow
it...the contest was cancelled and our shot at our first win in almost
two years went into the storm drains of Roosevelt Field, in Union
Oddly, Don Angelica was the Head judge at that show that night and in
private, numbers were whispered to a few of us older guys, we were
still in-between shock and elation so I don't remember if heard the
all numbers correctly, but the "88" did stand out and drown out the
tenths and Don's comments were that it was the best he had seen the
corp perform in years. That compliment by itself made up for the
cancellation of the show as compliments like those from Don were far
and few between and it proved to us at least that Holy Name was back.
There were to be other flashes of '57 in '67, the CYO's, the NJ Al
States were both great performances, but not like Union City, no that
was one of those "Special Shows".......the scores didn't matter, the
placement unimportant, the memories of that performance and what it
did for that ensemble of young men from Garfield, NJ was
A 67 PLEBE AND 68-75 CADET SHARES SOME MEMORIES WITH US. WITH THANKS TO LEW MERIKAS:
My Cadet life began in the autumn of 1967. The voice of all things good and wise, my mother, informed me that I would be joining the Garfield Plebes on Saturday morning. The tone of her voice was the one she used when a decision had been made and no further discussion would follow. Whats a Plebe? I asked, and was told they were the feeder corps for the Garfield Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps. I didnt even know what a drum and bugle corps was, but I was sure about to find out pretty quickly since I had no choice in the matter. Off I went on that fateful Saturday that was destined to change my life forever.?
Since I was not brimming over with experience and/or a heck of a lot of talent, my new life as a Cadet Plebe began with my first parade as part of the Plebe Honor Guard in 1967. It took a year, but I finally got to play my first bugle, a baritone, in the Plebe horn line in 1968. It was 1969 though before I got my big chance. I was moved up into the Big Corps, THE FAMOUS CADETS, as a third baritone. To the chagrin of my Mother but to my own great joy, I was moved to Contra Bass in 1971. I spent four more years in that revered maroon and gold uniform before aging out in 1975.
Lewis 1972 Cadet Portrait
L to R Katrina, Lauren, Lindsey, and Lewis Merikas 2008
During those years I experienced moments that most people never get to experience in their lifetimes, and I accumulated enough memories to last several lifetimes. Best of all I connected with three of my fellow Cadets who have remained my best friends for the past 33 years; Dave Young, Rich Biziak, and Greg Cinzio. I still keep in touch with Rich and Greg , but sadly I have lost contact with Dave Young. If anyone knows how he can be contacted, I would very much appreciate any information.
I wish I could say I knew I was gaining some life altering benefits from marching, but the truth is I didnt or at least I didnt know it at the time. I simply enjoyed it. I enjoyed everything about it; the crowds, the music, the applause, the rehearsals, the competitions, and the camaraderie. Did I mention the applause? God I loved the applause.!?
Unfortunately, after I aged out I became very distant from the corps, and critical of what they were doing. After all, I was an alumnus now and had all this vast experience of having marched for years (Ah, youthful ignorance). I was also in after-shock to a degree. I had just spent close to eight years of my life with the Cadets. Every one I knew was there, every friend I had. Almost everything I did in my life for eight years revolved around the corps and suddenly it was over in one night. I had to accept that it was over. I would not be coming back next season. I had to accept that I would NEVER wear that uniform I loved so much again. At that time I am sure I said or did some things in my disappointment and frustration that upset some of my fellow Cadets, and I regret having done so.
It wasnt until the years passed and I was able to reflect more maturely on those years that I began to realize what the corps really meant to me, and what I gained from being a Cadet. What I did gain was a foundation for life, and memories so precious that I am grateful for having been lucky enough to have been a part of it all.
How do you explain to anyone who hasnt shared the experience what it felt like to put on that hallowed Cadet uniform? It made you feel like you were ten feet tall and invincible. Wearing the uniform brought with it a responsibility to live up to our name and our reputation; Our history, and most of all, what it meant to be a Cadet.? There are the memories of members of other corps or spectators saying thats Garfield when we passed, with respect in their voices. There is the memory of standing my first inspection, marching in my first national championship finals, and hearing The Garfield Cadets announced, with me a part of all of the great Cadet heritage for what seemed like the first time.
The painful memory of not making DCI finals in 1972 because of a penalty, and of finally making DCI finals in 1975, my age-out year. And, most hurtful of all, there is the memory of seeing the corps in competition for the first time without me being a part of it.
Like all Cadet Alumni I have many more memories that will bring a smile to my face at unexpected times; and I will pause, and smile, and once in awhile shed a tear. To this day I still have this recurring dream of putting on my uniform to compete one more time. In fact, my wife tells me I still march in my sleep, especially between May and August.
There is only one other thing to add. If someone were to ask me if knowing now what I did not know then; about the hard work, sadness, soreness, disappointments mixed with absolute joy, sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, would I go through this again? To this question there can be only one answer. ABSOLUTELY!? So I guess, in retrospect, I did in fact gain life-altering benefits from marching in the Cadets. Lots of them! I just had to become older, and hopefully a little wiser, to realize it. I love that I have my memories. I love that I had my opportunity to be a part of something so wonderful. I love the Cadets I marched with, and I love it that now, 33 years later, new young Cadets are being given the same opportunities I was given. For Holy Name shall always be
Lewis M Merikas, 1967-1975
PLEASE NOTE: The above was written with the appreciated help of Dave Shaw.