Strike up the band

Part one of a three-part series on American Legion Post 191.

Less than a year after the end of World War I, the American Legion was officially chartered by Congress in September 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization.

American Legion posts around the country were organized by the World War I veterans to provide community service and to keep the military camaraderie.

Hamilton County organized an American Legion post the first week of September in 1919, electing Edward P. Prince as the first Post commander.

The Legion functioned as a county-wide group until the individual towns began to form their own posts in 1921.

In July 1921, Webster City’s Legion post approved forming a Legion band, which became the first of their more than 20 years of providing the community with musical entertainment.

The Webster City Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club pledged financial help for the first year as the band gained purpose and membership. Many members of the early band were former musicians of the old 2nd Iowa National Guard Band.

July 1922 was an important month for the local Legion group as they shed the Hamilton County Post label to become Webster City Post No. 191. The Post also accepted the band as a Legion organization and named them the Webster City Legion Band. The Band was admonished to be self-supporting and Legion members. Wesley Schaub was their first director.

The musicians held various fund-raisers such as minstrel shows and dances to finance the band’s uniforms and performance expenses.

A plain Legion Band was just fine until two of the musicians attended the 1924 National Legion convention in Minneapolis. There they watched the impressive Racine, Wisconsin Legion Post No. 76 Drum and Bugle Corps win the marching contest for the third consecutive time.

Harold Smith and Frank Hughes came home from the 1924 convention full of enthusiasm for the military style precision maneuvering of the Drum and Bugle Corps. They immediately encouraged the American Legion band to adopt the newest craze in music competition.

The Webster City American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps made its first appearance in the 1925 city Memorial Day parade. The 25-member group sported white jackets, white Jodhpur style pants, silver helmets and black puttees over black shoes to simulate riding boots.

They set a goal of competing in the 1925 National Legion contest in Omaha and began raising money to finance new maroon military style jackets and the cost of the trip. The corps practiced several times a week at Riverside Field to perfect the band formations of corkscrews, zig-zag, figure 8, hollow square, countermarch and star formation. They took part in various parades and gave exhibitions in nearby cities.

At the Omaha competition, the Corps also gave a music broadcast over a local radio station and debuted a maroon banner with white lettering proclaiming “Webster City, Post 191, Iowa”, which proceeded them on a high standard while on parade.

Members of the local Drum and Bugle Corps were WW I veterans, most of them born in the mid-1890’s. They had to earn a living to provide for their families. Belonging to the Corps required a vast effort to allot time to take part in the musical group. It also required their own financial support.

The Webster City musicians did not place in the 1926 State contest. Lack of funding kept the local Drum and Bugle Corps from competing at that year’s National Legion convention in Philadelphia.

Beginning in 1927, they received help and encouragement from the Fort Dodge Post #130 Drum and Bugle Corps who won the National Legion championship in 1926, ending the Racine, Wisconsin Post’s four-year monopoly.

In September of 1927, the Webster City Drum and Bugle Corps’ won the Iowa Legion Championship at the State Legion convention in Des Moines.

Corps manager Frank Hughes commented in the September 29, 1927 Webster City Journal that “the contest was won in Webster City as the Corps drilled two evenings a week for three hours each evening beginning last May”.

The group won a second consecutive state championship at the 1928 State Legion convention in Cedar Rapids competing against eleven other Drum and Bugle Corps.

During these contests, each Corps marched in the Convention parade with the top groups selected to compete in the on-field finals. The Cedar Rapids parade created a bit of excitement as the front rank of drummers George Mertz, John Dodge, Wallace Long and Chester Layman was attacked by a dog who clearly didn’t like their drumming. Each drummer broke rank as the dog tried fastening his teeth on each one before being warded off. They still were selected to join the finals.

As the 1928 Iowa Legion champions, the Webster City Drum and Bugle Corps represented the state at the 1929 National Convention in San Antonio, Texas. They didn’t place with the top four awards going to large city Corps bands.

Fort Dodge again topped the 1929 State Legion Championship with Webster City placing second. Eighteen Corps competed.

The Webster City group disbanded briefly in early 1930, then quickly reorganized to drill every Thursday evening at Riverside Field. Their work garnered them a fourth place finish in State Legion competition behind Knoxville, Gowrie and Fort Dodge.

There was Drum and Bugle Corps activity again in 1931, but they disbanded for good in 1932, probably owing to their ages, time constraints and the worsening financial conditions of the Depression.

Local music instructor Wesley Schaub, leader of the famed Hamilton County 4-H Band, began a Junior American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps in 1933. This all-male group, ranging in age from eight to eighteen, marched and performed throughout the area until 1940.

What a sight it must have been as the field lights gleamed off their silver helmets as the Webster City Drum and Bugle Corps executed their military precision formations during their performances. How proud the City must have been of their two State Championships.