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I once went out for beers with a friend named Bob, who served as a U.S. Army military policeman in the Vietnam war. He told me that he joined a V.F.W. post after discharge and that some of the World War II vets at the place made him feel as if he were personally responsible for losing Indochina to the communists. He said that the ribbing became especially intense in 1975 when Saigon fell, and the TV at the post showed images of helicopters lifting off the U.S. embassy roof with desperate refugees hanging on to the landing gear.

I told Bob that in my book, anyone who did his duty in a theater of war was a winner. He thanked me by picking up the bar tab. Problem solved!

Our culture sets great store on winning. Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing,” And I believe it was Billy Martin who asked, “If winning doesn’t matter, why keep score?” In our time, of course, this bit of wisdom is ignored by certain children’s soccer leagues.

1980 27th Lancers

The 27th Lancers – 1980

If you were in a competitive marching unit, you know all about winning and losing. Perhaps you came close to winning the Big One, like the 1980 27th Lancers. Or maybe you were in a C.Y.O. band, practicing hard all year only to be trounced at the circuit finals by the leviathan from St. William’s, Dorchester. Or you. could have marched in the aptly named Braintree Braves, who mustered a quorum of ten or a dozen kids every year to compete in Class C drum corps.

I imagine that the Braves considered it a coup merely to field a corps because there is such a thing as performing an activity out of sheer enjoyment. In my case, I like to shoot pool in spite of the fact that I have never sunk more than four balls in a row. (A pool shark once told me that wearing glasses throws off a player’s aim.) I feel a kinship with duffers who hit the golf course every weekend and never score below 95, bad dancers who strut their stuff at high school reunions and risk having 15 minutes of Internet Infamy, and softball players who are forever buying post-game drinks for the winning side.

1952 Braintree Braves Drum and Bugle Corps

Braintree Drum and Bugle Corps – 1952

There used to be a platitude that announcers at drum corps shows would say when the corps would assemble on the field at retreat and wait for the scores; “Ladies and Gentlemen, they’re all champions!” Thinking of this reminds me of the 1975 season when the 27th Lancers came in 4th at DCI after having finished 20th the previous season. We did not win the championship, and we probably would have come in 5th if the Hawthorne Muchachos had not been disqualified, but judging by crowd response we won the hearts of many, and finishing in the upper tier after having been pronounced dead was a moral victory.

If you marched in a drum corps, band, color guard, or drill team, and if doing so kept your adolescent mischief to a minimum, you won something. If once upon a time, before you worried about mortgages and colonoscopies, you were so lighthearted that riding on a stinking, sputtering tour bus was your idea of fun because the other callow jokers on the bus were so dear to you, you won something. And if you met the love of your life through marching activity, you won a prize that no sane person would trade for all the first place trophies on earth.

Of course, if you were in a unit that gained a crown – DCI, DCA, WGI, local circuit – I congratulate you. But winning comes in many forms. As a character in a William S, Burroughs novel says, “Sometimes you have to take a broad, general view of things.” My broad, general view of the marching arts is that anyone who participates in them with a healthy attitude gains a whole world. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you are all champions.


The 27th Lancers – 1975