“My Corps” by Jim Wren

Chapter a Week – Part 6


I really should not call this chapter Phantomettes and Raiders because in the whole scheme of things the Raiders were not all that important. But since I marched with them, and I’m the author, that is what it will be called.

From the start of the corps in 1956, and until we shut down in early 1965, we had an indoor competiton guard called “The Phantomettes”. For a brief moment we even had an all-male counter-part, which I’ll detail here in a moment.

I understand that in recent years the girls of the Regiment guard have taken to calling themselves “The Phantomettes”. Well, here’s the story behind how it all began.

As I have alluded several times, I have always had some disagreement with the way the whole all-girl competition color guard concept was managed in the early years. In the first place, if it hadn’t been for the fact that the first real color guard for the St. Thomas Crusaders was made up of girls from Muldoon High School, maybe the guard could have been mixed, or even all male. But, it was to be all-girl, and would even have a different name, the Phantomettes.

I can say with a clear conscience that none of the problems that erupted should be attributed to the girls in the guard. Yes, they would occasionally say something about being sent here and there because they were so good. The unfortunate implication then became that the drum corps itself was not so good. In truth, in the drum corps world the corps was certainly not equal to what the Phantomettes were in the color guard world. While these occasional little barbs stung, it was what was being said and done by others that really caused concern among many of us in the corps. Time after time there would be newspaper articles about the Phantomettes traveling here or there, doing this or that, winning contests, being given banquets, and the like. People would naturally ask why the drum corps was not as good as the color guard.

Without the corps proper, the Phantomettes traveled to Miami, Seattle, Boston, Louisville and a few other places. One time they were off to one of these places, the corps got to go to Warren, IL to march in a parade, and we were announced as the Phantomettes Drum & Bugle Corps! Of course, the boys in the corps were quite miffed, to say the least.

Dan Dever was one of the guys who played in the old VFW Corps and helped out the early Regiment as a drum instructor. He was also an All-American Drum Corps judge along with Alex. He and Alex had a friendly, and occasionally not so friendly, personal relationship. One of the areas of contention was over the color guard situation and the subsequent creation of an all-male counter-part to the Phantomettes.

Dan and several of the corps members went to Chicago to see the Black Watch from the United Kingdom. The Black Watch did much the same thing as they still do for a “tattoo”: marching, band playing, rifle drills and very loud shouted commands. Dan and the boys came back with the idea of starting an all-male color guard based on the British style of marching, rifle manual and general military bearing. They recruited the rest of us, Dan wrote a great drill, and we started practicing. We wore the drum corps pants, sash, and shako with plume. We purchased shirts, which were basically black but had reflective silver threads woven in and a bright red ascot.

We called ourselves the Raiders of the Phantom Regiment. We entered local and area winter guard contests during the 1959/60 winter. Starting out, we finished in the middle of the pack at best. Our first contest was in South Milwaukee, WI, up against the Phantomettes and the Mariners, among others. The Phantomettes and the Mariners were used to finishing 1-2 as a regular thing, but along came the Raiders to give them a challenge. Bob Stolberg as color guard sergeant started the show by shouting orders from across the floor, a great effect. One of the high points of the show was our whistling the River Kwai March as we completed the show. One must remember that there was no recorded music for shows at that time.

Editors note: Color footage of the Raiders in performance has been found and will be featured in the 50th Anniversary Anthology DVD, to be released late this April.

Later in the season both the Phantomettes and the Raiders traveled to Baltimore, MD for a big guard contest. Most of the guards were from East Coast drum corps. Lo and behold, that was the first time that the Raiders beat the Phantomettes. Later, at the Midwest championships held at the Rockford National Guard Armory, the Raiders won the preliminary show, and the Phantomettes won the title. At the very least, we had proven that it is much easier to develop a championship caliber color guard than a championship caliber drum corps.

During the following summer, Dan Dever and Alex had a real falling out. I don’t remember the exact reasons, but it was something to do with color guard rules and regulations at a drum corps show. I seem to recall that the problem between the two of them had been festering for some time. At any rate, Dan left the Regiment and immediately became the director of the cross-town rival Purple Knights. We tried to put together a Raiders show for the following winter, but the real interest was no longer there and we were not very good. We had proven our point in that initial season, and the Phantomettes went on that winter to go undefeated.

Editors note: The Phantomettes were disbanded in early 1965. The corps re-ented the winter guard arena in 1977 under the leadership of John Brazale. As members of the then-newly-formed WGI circuit, they won the gold medal in the top class twice (1978,1979). A competitive division at the WGI World Championships is now named in honor of John Brazale.

Click on the link below to see the history of the Phantom Regiment winter guard at the WGI World Finals.

Next week: Part 7 – A House of Cards: The all-male season, a near miss at the VFW Nationals and the end of an era.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jim Wren is a charter member of Phantom Regiment (1956) and has been active with the corps every year since. He became the corps brass arranger in 1968 and arranged every Phantom Regiment show from then through 1999. Inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 1994, Jim currently serves as a member of the Phantom Regiment Board of Directors and acts as an advisor to the corps’ design team. Jim lives in Rockford with his wife Laura and works in the insurance industry.

Jim can be reached at [email protected].