Garbarina / Skyliner History (Aug. 1950)
WHAT MAKES A CHAMPION DRUM CORPS
~The story behind the success of the Garbarina Post~
The boys of Garbarina Post knew they'd be the best corps in the land. But it
took 17 years to prove it.
When New York Customes House employee William St. John organized a junior drum
and bugle corps in 1932, the boys of his corps averaged nine years of age. They
lived in the area around the west end of 125th Street, in New York, where the
West Side Subway rumbles overhead. There isn't much room for kids to play there,
except when police close off nearby La Salle Street as a play street in the hot
Ten years later, in 1942, when St. John's junior corps was still going strong,
the older members disbanded for service around the globe with the armed forces
of the United States. Since 1932 they had become one of the four best junior
corps in the East and they had every intention of being the best junior or
senior corps in the country. They had, in the meantime, been sponsored at
different times by three separate Posts of the American Legion and one VFW Post.
"When we come back from the war," the corps agreed, "let's form a Legion Post of
our own. We will name it after the first of us to be killed in service, and we
will stay together and be the best senior drum and bugle corps in the country."
The first to be killed was Raymond A. Garbarina, who had been a bugler in St.
John's junior corps. He was a truck-driving PFC in the army when his ammo truck
received a direct hit in the Battle of the Bulge.
Six other members of the Corps were lost in War Two, and the man who made the
corps, William St. John, a War One veteran who also served briefly in War Two,
died when he fell from a Customs launch patrolling New York harbor in November,
The rest came back. They chartered Raymond A. Garbarina Memorial Post of the
American Legion, with HQ at Tiemann Place in their old New York City
For the next four years they competed in the Legion's eastern championship
senior drum corps circuit. This circuit has so far produced every post-war Legion
National Championship Senior Drum and Bugle Corps, including those of Stratford,
Conn., Hackensack, N.J., and Riverside, N.J.
Garbarina Post lost only one competition in that company during four years.
But the Post was strapped for money, and couldn't send its 60-man corps to the
1946 Legion Convention in San Francisco, where Stratford won the national senior
In '47, when the Legion Convention moved to New York, Garbarina Post learned
that the host town wasn't allowed to compete. The corps sat in the stands,
unable to go onto the field and vie with their old rivals from Hackensack,
across the river, who won the national title.
In 1948 the convention moved to Miami, Garbarina couldn't afford the trip, and
their other old rivals, the Jersey Joes from Riverside, N.J., won.
Since anybody in new York can afford to go to Philadelphia, Garbarina Post was
there last fall for the 1949 National Convention, after four years of
nail-biting for a crack at the National Senior title.
At Philadelphia, only the pre-war champion corps of Commonwealth Edison Post, of
Chicago, was able to grab one of the first five spots away from the tough
eastern circuit. Hackensack's Doremus Post was well up again, in fifth. Edison
was fourth. Hamilton Post, of Baltimore, in the eastern circuit, was thrid. The
Riverside Jersey Goes were second.
On top was Raymond A. Garbarina Memorial.
Post 1523, of 55 Tiemann Place, New York City, winners in their first national
senior competition, at the end of a long hard trail going back 17 years.
When William St. John first got his nine-year-olds together in 1932 for Moe
Wolff Post of the VFW, he infected them with his own passion for perfection.
With that as a starter he was able to make the kids swallow a rigid discipline,
without which, he taught them, perfection is impossible.
St. John, a persuasive talker, procured as musical arranger and bugle instructor
the best man in the East, if not in the country- Hames J. Donnelly. As drum and
drill instructor he got G. Edward Pierce, also tops in his specialities.
These two men, whose services have been available to other corps, are partly
responsible for the general high level of eastern performance. When Pierce works
out a maneuver for Garbarina Post he does it with toy soldiers and blocks and a
slide rule. In corps practices every maneuver must not only look right, but must
tally mathematically with Pierce's dummy plans.
St. John, who knew little or nothing about drums, bugles and drills, knew that
he wanted only the best. And he was the boss, manager, moving spirit,
diciplinarian and master psychologist.
Today, when Garbarina Corps marches onto a field, it attracts attention, and its
proud bearing rattles lesser competitors.
"When you go anywhere, hang your heads high," St. John taught his boys. Though
St. John has been dead five years, the boys still believe in what he told them
so deep down in their bones that they don't know how to be anything but proud
and sure of themselves.
Before the war, whenever more money was needed than sponsors could provide, St.
John footed the bill. He scrounged for practice space- sometimes in an armory,
sometimes on a Hudson River pier, in a parking lot if need be, in a rented music
studio, in a Legion or VFW Post.
By 1940, St. John's boys were well known as the junior corps sponsored by Phoebe
Apperson Hearst Post of the Legion. But in competition three other junior corps
of the East were better most of the time. These three were the Grand Street Boys
of New York, the Holy Name Cadets of Garfield, N.J. (National Junior Legion
Champions today), and the Penn Treaty Cadets, of PEnn Treaty, Pa.
Time after time one or more of these junior outfits finished ahead of Williams
St. John's boys. Grand Street seemed always out in front.
"You will beat them. You will beat them," St. John insisted. "And the way to do
it is drill, drill, drill."
They drilled and drilled and drilled; in parking lots, on piers, in halls, And
just before the war Grand Street found its juniors winning less while Phoebe
Apperson Hearst Post's were winning more. IN 1940 St John's juniors beat Grand
Street for the first time- at the New York Department Legion Convention in
In New YOrk City there is always a lot of shifting of boys from one corps to
another. And now, what with Donnelly's music, Pierce's attractive maneuvers and
the rise of St. John's juniors to the top, there was a noticable drift of the
best boys in other corps to St. John's group. Raymond Garbarina himself was a
defection from Grand Street to St. John's perfectionists.
Then came the war. When it was over and the boys, now men, returned and formed
Garbarina Post of the American Legion, they had only their service cloths for
uniforms- a conglomeration of army, navy and marine garb.
They had to stretch for every penny. One of their old members, Hank Goldstein,
was elected to take over St. John's managerial worries, and he went at it with
an enthusiasm that almost wore him out.
To get uniforms the corps raffled off a car, every member peddling tickets. And
a New York furrier, Sam Aaron, who had admired the corps and its spirit, became
a devoted follower. He lent them $1500 for instruments ("Pay me back any
When came the four years of local competition, waiting for a crack at the
national title. And now that Garbarina Post is the champion, the financial
headaches are worse than ever. It will cost at least $10,000 to get to Los
Angeles and defend the title at the Legion National Convention this October.
That's a lot of money to be raised by a bunch of young veterans just starting
families of their own. "But we'll get there if we have to crawl on our bellies,"
It would be an unnatural position for these boys who "hang their heads high."
~ Peter Bolter~
Taken from the August 1950 edition of the American Legion Magazine
**This article was found and donated by Jimmy "Triple H" Eldridge. Thanx Jimmy!