Herald business editor recalls marching in Nixon's inaugural parade

dworthington@heraldonline.comJanuary 21, 2013 

Forty years and a day ago, I and 1,975 of my closest friends made history. Officially we marched, but it was more like lurched, down Pennsylvania Avenue with horns in hand.

There were far more than 76 trombones. There were legions of trumpets. The pounding of the drums seemed to echo forever. And we woodwinds were at the back of this huge band where you couldn’t even hear what the front was playing.

We were the last unit in President Richard Nixon’s second inaugural and the favorite of first lady Pat Nixon. She said we were perfectly in step and the music was wonderful.

If she said so, it must be so.

Officially, we were the “Spirit of ’76” marching band, the first official event of the country’s Bicentennial celebration. Officially, there were 1,976 marching musicians but everyone knew the number was higher. Individually, we were the 18 marching bands from the high schools at that time in Fairfax County, Va.. Each band marched at least 100 people, and that didn’t include the majorettes, the color guard or other auxiliaries.

And officially, no two musicians from the same school stood next to each other. Organizers wanted the band to be a carousel of color and music so Annandale and Stuart red merged with Fort Hunt and Falls Church green, Robinson and Fairfax blue, and Herndon and Madison black. Most of the drum majors, clad in white, strutted their stuff behind two giant numerals, a 7 and a 6.

Officially it was 42 degrees that day, but as my best friend from high school, Doug Test, recalls, “where?” It was bone-chilling cold, and I forgot to listen to my mother’s advice and wear long johns. There were warming tents, but they were reserved for the majorettes and flag bearers, much to the ire of my future wife, Candace Parris, who was wearing the blue of Robinson and a large, white Shako hat. I and Doug and about 98 others wore Annandale red.

Somewhere in a box of memories is a photo of that day. It is of the back of the band, row after row of clarinets. It you look closely you’ll find someone playing a tin horn. Well, it’s actually a one-piece silver clarinet inherited from my dad. I didn’t want to take a good horn outside in the cold. Find the tin-horn player, count a couple of players over and there’s Doug Test. I think my wife is a few rows ahead of us.

So we marched, made history as the world’s largest marching band, and clashed with others making history. Distinct, but not separate, were 75,000 people who had come to protest the Vietnam War – the most protestors ever at an inaugural. They had an event near the Washington monument. When their demonstration was over, the parade was still going on.

Some came to make a statement, hurling bottles and eggs at the band. That’s the second thing my wife remembers that day, the eggs. Getting egg goo out of a white Shako hat is not a pleasant task.

Bottles, eggs and patriotic airs were not the only history swirling around the nation’s Capitol. Just two weeks earlier Bernard Baker, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Sturgis and Virgilio Gonzales joined E. Howard Hunt in pleading guilty to burglarizing the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate. Many wondered at the time if that would be the end of the investigation. History tells us that answer.

Since then, I’ve interviewed presidents, a king – of swat – a queen and even an Indian chief. Each interview is memorable as I got to their story. But on one day, 40 years and a day ago, with 1,975 of my friends, we got to make, not write history.

Don Worthington 803-329-4066 dworthington@heraldonline.com

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