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"The President's Own"


A History of the United States Marine Band by Col. John R. Bourgeois (Ret)

...continued from page four

Winston Churchill addressed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Mid-Century Convocation in Boston on 1 April 1949. As he was about to leave the speakers' dais, Churchill turned to the audience and declared that he would like to "ask one favor." He requested that Lieutenant Colonel Santelmann and the band "play one more number-The Marines' Hymn," and to the delight of the audience and the band, Churchill sang all the words to each verse.

The band played the background music for the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949. Lt Col Santelmann conducted a varied program of music which included selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. The following morning The Washington Post reported, "NATO treaty signed, Marine Band says It Ain't Necessarily So!"

The band was a constant fixture at Blair House while the White House was being renovated during the administration of President Harry S Truman. Albert Schoepper, assistant director, led string ensemble performances there often with President Truman joining in at the piano. While Truman may not have been a fan of the "public relations" aspects of the Marine Corps itself, he wrote the band's leader: "Let me just say that the U.S. Marine Band is not only a most attractive ceremonial institution but musically eloquent and highly professional as well. Through the years it has been a source of comfort and pleasure to the occupant of the White House."

On 10 November 1954, the Marine Corps' birthday, during the first administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the band participated in the dedication ceremonies of Felix de Weldon's heroic representation of the flag raising on Iwo Jima at the Marine Corps War Memorial.

Following the retirement of Lt Col Santelmann, Albert F. Schoepper inherited the directorship of the band on 1 May 1955.. He served in the position of director for almost seventeen years and became the first director to achieve the rank of colonel.

While attending an evening parade at Marine Barracks Eighth and "Eye" on 12 July 1962, President John F. Kennedy told the audience that he had just discovered that one illustrious title was no longer his-namely that of Commander-in Chief. He explained that the commandant could order Marines to deploy anywhere in the world without consulting him; the Marine bandsmen were the only troops that were solely his. The Kennedy wit became evident when he went on to say, "The Marine Band is the only force that cannot be transferred from the Washington area without my express permission. Let it be hereby announced that we, the Marine Band and I, intend to hold the White House against all odds!"

At the request of Mrs Kennedy, the Marine Band led the funeral procession of the assassinated President on November 25, 1963.

Throughout the years of service to the White House there have been incidents that have added to the lore of the band's colorful history. None could be more illustrative of a communication gap than that between President Lyndon B. Johnson and the leader of the Marine dance band, Captain Dale L. Harpham.

President Johnson had pre-determined that during his press reception of 1965 he was going to dance with all of the ladies present. Unfortunately, he had not informed the dance band leader of his intentions. While the band was playing a medley of Broadway show tunes, the president glided by, and over the shoulder of his dance partner he gruffly whispered to Captain Harpham, the band leader:"Faster!" Harpham increased the tempo of the music. Several times more the president passed by and said: "Faster!" and the last time: "Damn it, I said faster!" With each pass the tempo of the music increased until the long legged president was galloping around the room. In exasperation Johnson retired from the dance floor and nothing more was heard from him.

The next day an aide phoned Harpham at the band office and asked, "Captain, what in the world did you do last night that so infuriated the President of the United States?" Harpham related his version of the story and was told that the aide would get back to him shortly. Five minutes later the aide was back and said : "Captain, when the President says faster, he means shorter." It was the president's intent to dance a few moments with one lady, stop, change partners, go to the next, and in so doing the press would have reported that "last night the president danced with every lady in the room."

The Marine Band performed during the dedication on 27 October of Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac near Georgetown. The ceremony was attended by President Johnson and the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, for whose wedding the band had performed sixty-one years earlier.

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