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NEWS | April 6, 2021

Happy Birthday, Bluegrass Marchers!

By Sgt. 1st Class (retired) John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Many events in American history have occurred with the support of a military musical unit. Before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Colonial soldiers marched to the music of fifes and drums. During the Civil War, military leaders on both sides relied on military musicians for entertainment, positioning troops in battle, and stirring them to victory.

Army bands have a brilliant history.

April 6, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the 202nd Army Band. It was organized and federally recognized on April 6, 1921, in the Kentucky National Guard at Bowling Green as the Band Section, Service Company, 149th Infantry, an element of the 38th Division (later redesignated as the 38th Infantry Division).

The establishment of the modern National Guard regimental bands was an outgrowth of the Militia Act of 1903. The act was federal legislation to create, from the state's militia, an early National Guard to be organized, equipped, and trained to regular Army standards and fully ready to mobilize if the need arose. They required each regiment to have a brass band.

Although April 6, 1921, is the unit's official date of origin, the 202nd Army Band's roots extend back to an earlier time.

The Second Regiment Military Band, Kentucky State Guard, was at Frankfort, Ky., from June 1895 to April 1914. It was initially under the command of Captain John Brady, followed by Nelson Heffner in 1907, then Edward B. Dumas in 1908. During its time in service, the Band was in great demand, entertaining the troops in camp and military functions and holding concerts at various programs and events around the state.

By 1899, the Army had 41 bands. The Army increased the number of musicians in each organization to 28.

The Army sent the Second Regiment Band to the 1904 World's Fair at St. Louis. The fair featured many outstanding military and civilian bands. It honored them to perform alongside the Sousa Band, the Marine Band, and many other touring bands.

During the Kentucky State Guard's 1905 annual encampment held at Paducah, Adjutant General William "Percy" Haly was asked if a band accompanied troops to actual war. He replied, "Most certainly. The band is a very important part. The music fills the soldiers with enthusiasm and spurs them to fight all the harder." There were two regimental bands, one at Frankfort, Second Regiment, and the other at Owensboro, Third Regiment. Efforts were underway to organize a band for the First Regiment in the Louisville Legion.

In June 1906, the Band provided music at the laying of the cornerstone of Kentucky's "new" Statehouse. The Band was also one of the Kentucky State Guard units to participate in the July 1907 Jamestown Exposition. By May 1913, the band moved from Frankfort to Ashland, Ky.

In April 1914, the Second Regiment Band, Kentucky National Guard, an element of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, was mustered in at Richmond with Capt. T. J. Turner as the bandleader. Many of its members were students from Berea College. This band served during the Kentucky Guard's Mexican Border Service, 1916-1917.

Following federal service on the border in February 1917, they were sent to state camp at Winchester before being sent to Fort Thomas, and then on to Camp Shelby, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and service in the First World War. While at Camp Shelby, the Band played during military ceremonies and entertained troops at the camp's YMCA, during church services, and for dances in the local area.

On Oct. 1, 1917, while still at Camp Shelby, the Second Regiment was reorganized and redesignated the 149th Infantry Regiment and assigned to the 75th Brigade, 38th Infantry Division. The old Second Regiment Band was now the 149th Infantry Band.

In July 1918, the number of members increased from 28 to 50, and the Band's leader, John Paul Edwards, was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. By October 1918, they were en route to march in France. While in the European country, the Band played concerts for the troops and the local French citizens. They would become part of the Army of Occupation and initially played music in the Convalescent Hospital at Savenay, France. Some members played music with other bands in the Army during this time.

By January 1919, the 149th Regimental Band demobilized at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville and later disbanded.

Following the war, the United States Army, including the National Guard, reorganized.

In April 1921, the 149th Band, an element of Service Company, was newly established. Dr. Julius L. Topmiller, a licensed veterinarian, served as their first band leader. The Army promoted Topmiller to second lieutenant on Sept. 20, 1922. He later became Captain of Service Company and then Major of the First Battalion, 149th Infantry.

In 1923, the Kentucky National Guard received its first authorization for Warrant Officers. The first two positions were for band leaders assigned to the 138th Field Artillery and 149th Infantry Bands.

In 1924, they appointed Daniel Webster Cline as the first Warrant Officer band leader. Cline was a native of New Ross and a veteran of the First World War. He served in France as a musician first class with Headquarters Company, 323rd Infantry Regiment, 81st Division. Following the war, Cline returned to Bowling Green, where he became a grocer and joined the band section of Service Company, 149th Infantry, as an enlisted man.

On Aug. 25, 1925, Warrant Officer Calvin Ney Cook took command of the Band, followed by Warrant Officer Joe H. Rust, Feb. 27, 1928.

Rust, a native of Bowling Green, was a watchmaker and jeweler by profession. Throughout the rest of the 1920s, 1930s, and the Second World War, he would serve as its leader. Following the war, Rust returned to Bowling Green, where he continued his profession and became involved in local politics.

During the years between the First and Second World Wars, the Band stayed busy. Many organizations highly demanded their talent during military drills, encampments, and at various programs and public events.

On May 1, 1940, the Band reorganized and was redesignated as the Band, 149th Infantry. They took part in the Wisconsin Maneuvers, August 1940.

Inducted into federal service in Bowling Green on Jan. 17, 1941, the Band would then serve during the Second World War. The Army assigned the Band to Camp Shelby from Jan. 26, 1941, to Jan. 25, 1943. During this time, the unit participated in maneuvers at Coopers, Louisiana, and Sabine areas, Aug. 7 to Oct. 3, 1941; Louisiana Maneuvers, Sept. 20 to Nov. 11, 1942; and temporarily assigned for duty at Camp Carrabelle, Florida, Nov. 23, 1942, to Jan. 1, 1943.

Throughout the rest of their time at Camp Shelby, the Band continued to play at dances, formal military balls, parades, open houses, military and civilian ceremonies, sporting events, and weddings.

The Band was assigned to Camp Livingston, Louisiana, from Jan. 16, 1943, to Oct. 24, 1944. During their time at Camp Livingston, the unit was twice reorganized and redesigned. On Jan. 19, 1944, it was relieved from assignment to the 149th Infantry and designated the 202nd Army Band. The second organizational change came on May 27, 1944, when it was renamed the 202nd Army Ground Forces Band.

From Oct. 25, 1944, to Sept. 25, 1945, they stationed the Band at Camp Maxey, Texas.

From Oct. 1 to Nov. 23, 1945, the unit was inactivated at Camp Bowie, Texas.

Following the war, on May 17, 1947, the 202nd Army Ground Forces Band was redesignated and sent back to the commonwealth. Initially, in June 1946, consideration was given to Covington as the location for the 202nd Band. However, the Kentucky Active Militia had replaced the National Guard band while federally activated during the war, so they established the Band at Lexington instead.

There the commanding officer was to "secure necessary enlistments, have physical examinations conducted and assemble the unit for inspection for Federal recognition." Adjutant General Gustavus H. May designated the date for the Band's initial inspection. On Jan. 30, 1947, under Warrant Officer Frank J. Prindl, the Band received federal recognition as the 202nd Army Ground Forces Band.

Six months later, on July 24, 1947, the 202nd left Lexington for its new duty station in Ashland. Under Warrant Officer William C. Reeves and First Sergeant Harold Scott, the group had a full complement of bandsmen. Choosing a facility to conduct drills and store equipment came as their next obstacle. An agreement with the Ashland Senior High School officials resulted in access to a small storage room and the use of the school's band hall until the completion of a new Armory. In 1950, the Band moved to the newly built armory there.

The unit conducted summer training at Fort Knox until 1952, when they traveled to Fort Campbell. After three consecutive years of training at that facility, annual training shifted to Camp Breckinridge, Ky., until 1963. In 1964, the band traveled to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, to attend their first annual training camp outside Kentucky. Throughout the rest of the 1960s, the Band returned to Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, where they trained with the 113th Army Band. During their first twenty years of training, they gained a reputation not only as accomplished musicians but as well-trained marksmen and efficient soldiers.

In 1952, 1953, and 1954, the 202nd earned the coveted Pershing Trophy, named in honor of General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, for rifle marksmanship. Because the unit received the trophy three consecutive years, the award was retired, and the Band was prevented from further competitions with the other companies of the Kentucky National Guard. A change in leadership came when Warrant Officer Robert E. Fleming became the Band's commander in 1953.

The Band also earned the Eisenhower Trophy in 1954. This award recognized the National Guard unit that showed the highest degree of military proficiency for the year. From 1952 through 1967—except for only one year—the 202nd got the National Guard Award for Efficiency. While at Ashland, they also received the Adjutant General's Trophy, the National Guard of Kentucky Trophy for Rifle Marksmanship, the National Guard Award for Efficiency in Training, and a Certificate of Victory for National Guard Marksmanship.

While attending summer camp at Camp Breckinridge in August 1961, all the members of the 202nd Band either received the Kentucky Medal of Merit, Kentucky Commendation Ribbon, or the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Commendation Ribbon, for their "efforts and ability expended by the members and their technical knowledge." Major General Arthur Y. Lloyd, the Adjutant General, made the presentations.

The 202nd experienced its second station change on Sept. 1, 1970. After 23 years of continuous association with the Ashland community, the Band shifted its duty station to Louisville and attached to the 138th Field Artillery. New personnel filled the ranks as many Ashland-based unit members resigned or retired because of the travel distances between Ashland and Louisville.

Following Bill Broughton's retirement, Chief Warrant Officer John M. Hoover assumed command of the 202nd, with Ronald L. Baker serving as his First Sergeant. They quickly set to work rebuilding the Band. One year later, the Band again moved to the capital city of Frankfort. There they were assigned to the State Area Command (STARC). Those early drills for the Frankfort-based band took place in the "old armory," which is now known as the Kentucky State Police supply building on US Highway 60.

In 1975, a new armory opened at the Boone National Guard Center. The 202nd, along with several other units, began drilling each month in that facility. About eleven years later, in October 1986, the Kentucky National Guard gained property from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The church building, renovated for the Band's specific needs, was deemed "the best facility we have ever had" by unit leaders.

In the early 1970s, to showcase the Band's musicianship and enhance the local units' recruiting efforts, the Kentucky Guard enacted a statewide concert tour program. The 202nd Army Band would travel the Commonwealth conducting performances to fulfill its annual training requirements. Until then, the Band similarly modeled its training exercises after other Guard units. During one of the two weeks, the company trained as regular combat soldiers while marching, firing weapons, undergoing inspection, sleeping in tents, and enduring physical training rigors. The other week emphasized proficiency in the group's primary role, performing music at Guard and civilian functions. Thus the 202nd has always blended two—sometimes conflicting—missions to build morale and esprit de corps via music and military preparedness.

It was at this time that Colonel (Ret.) Armando "Al" J. Alfaro was appointed by the Adjutant General, Major General (Ret.) Richard L. Frymire to assist with the development and promotion of the Band as staff band coordinator.

In 1973, the 202nd's first statewide concert tour took place. From June 9 to 23, the Band conducted seventeen concerts in nine cities. These concerts, performed in communities where National Guard units were located, were intended to "acquaint the young men and women of each city with the benefits of belonging to the Kentucky National Guard."

In the heart of Bowling Green, Fountain Square was the opening site for this two-week tour that would later take them to Glasgow, Owensboro, Louisville, Fort Knox, Frankfort, and other cities across the state. During this concert tour, the Band appeared on WAVE-TV and WKYT's "Town Talk" program. They performed three numbers during the show, and interviews were conducted with bandmaster Mr. John Hoover and Colonel Alfaro. During this tour, the band split into three separate groups—a concert band, a dance band, and a popular rock band, "The Wilderness Road New Breed." These three components of the 202nd visited area hospitals and performed for hundreds of disabled children.

Annual training in 1974 saw the beginning of the unit's "Bicentennial Music Tour," intended to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Kentucky's Euro-American settlement and the upcoming bicentennial of our nation's independence. During the two-week concert tour, the Band performed at many celebrations, such as the "Bicentennial Flag Day" program at the Old State Capitol and many charitable functions. However, all these performances were surpassed when the 202nd Army Band accompanied singer Danny Thomas during the 1974 Easter Seals Telethon for Crippled Children in Lexington.

In 1975, for the third consecutive year, the Band toured the state giving free concerts to eleven cities in fifteen days of May. Enhancing the tour, a full-scale replica of the Liberty Bell accompanied them. The model had first toured Kentucky during the summer of 1950. They placed it near the entrance of the Old State Capitol upon the conclusion of the 1950 tour.

The bicentennial tour concluded July 11, 1976, after two weeks of participating in parades and concerts in Carrollton, Lexington, London, Williamsburg, Glasgow, Owenton, Central City, and other cities across the state.

On July 7, during an interview for the Times-Argus newspaper of Central City, then Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Hoover, the director of the Band, said, "People tend to think of us as a military band playing military music. But that's a totally false impression. In reality, we're civilians from many professions who get together in the Guard once a month to play some fine music from nearly every field. We do a lot of different things throughout the week, but when we get together, we're all musicians, and we really enjoy putting on a good show together."

Instead of conducting their customary concert tour for annual training in 1978, the Band opted to travel to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to "get a taste of training at a military post." CW2 Hoover stated, "Going to an Army post was an unexpected stroke of good luck, from a training point of view." It also proved to be fortunate from the bandsmen's standpoint, as concert locations included a visit to New Orleans and a performance at Jackson Square in New Orleans' famed French Quarter.

This training session was an enormous success, and many bandsmen hated to see it end.

The 202nd returned to its more customary annual state concert tour that following year. From 1979 until 1982, the 202nd Army Band toured Kentucky, offering free concerts at such places as the Kentucky Horse Park, the Armor Center at Fort Knox, churches, and local festivals.

Among the more memorable activities for 1983 was a July 1 reunion concert, which took place at the 16th Street Plaza in Ashland. Former and current members joined in swapping stories and sharing the accomplishments of the 202nd's over thirty years of successful service.

Annual training in 1984 saw the unit travel north to Camp Grayling, Michigan, where, besides concerts in communities throughout central Michigan, the unit took part in Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) warfare and field training exercises.

In 1986, the Band proudly led the parade through Frankfort that marked Kentucky's observance of the 350th anniversary of the National Guard's founding.

Additional training in 1987 provided another memorable occasion for the bandsmen who attended annual training at Fort Stewart, Georgia. That year, lightning struck a tree and ran along the ground to a tent where the guardsmen had bivouacked. Although none permanently, some bandsmen were injured; yet, the episode added a new twist to the band's banner—the humorous addition of a lightning bolt.

During the 1990s, the Band continued to grow in reputation. Annual training camps were held at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1990; Ft. Knox in 1992 and 1994; and Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in 1997 and 1998. The decade's highlight occurred in November 1994 when the unit traveled to Santiago Chile as the Chilean military guests. During the two-week stay, the unit traveled into the Andes Mountains, performed in coastal communities, and played joint concerts with Chilean military bands. As representatives of Kentucky, unit members were hosted by municipal officials, Chilean military leaders, and US Embassy officials.

In 1996, longtime unit commander John M. Hoover retired after twenty-five years as Chief Warrant Officer. In a celebration dubbed "Hooverpaloosa '96," active and retired members of the unit gathered to honor the man who had commanded them for so many years.

Gregg Stepp, the Western Hills High School band director, assumed command of the 202nd in early 1997.

Kentuckians in the latter 1990s witnessed the Band regularly perform across the commonwealth. Venues included The Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, the Glasgow Highland Games, the Kentucky Music Education Association annual conference, both the Kentucky National Guard's Officers Association and National Guard Enlisted Association annual conferences, and the Governor's Derby Breakfast.

As the Band entered the 21st Century, it blended its dual musical and military missions and alternated between concert tours and annual training events at Fort Knox. New leadership emerged within the group as longtime first sergeant, Dan Long, was replaced by Charles Adwell at Long's retirement in 2001. In 2007, Sgt. 1st Class Sharon Cates succeeded 1st Sgt. Adwell, to become the first female senior noncommissioned officer in the unit.

The 202nd Kentucky Army National Guard Band has provided one hundred years of service to our nation and the commonwealth. Hundreds of musician-soldiers have offered us their time and talents. Many Kentuckians, Americans, and foreign nationals have been entertained and introduced to the Kentucky National Guard through this organization's efforts.

Today, the unit continues its outstanding military and musical traditions and proudly serves the Commonwealth of Kentucky in ceremonial, public relations, and community-oriented activities.


149th Infantry Band
Inducted Jan. 17, 1941

Joe H. Rust, Warrant Officer/Band Leader
Walter N. "Nick" Ashby, Technical Sergeant
Robert H. "Sonny" Burton, Staff Sergeant
Nelson V. Graham, Sergeant
Tandy A. Paxon, Sergeant
H. J. McNair, Jr., Sergeant
Richard C. Wilson, Sergeant
Thomas D. Jones, Corporal
Franklin A. Wright, Corporal

Asbury, Robert P.
Baird, George Wilber
Baize, Augustus L.
Blackwell, William
Clemens, Robert M.
Folk, Billy
Holzmer, William J.
Latimer, Richard L.
Luse, George
Mitchell, Joe
Pierce, Timothy O.
Read, Hugh M. "Tony"
Sherrill, J. D.
Shirley, Albert H.
Smith, Thomas E.
Steffey, Howard J.
Upchurch, Wendell M.
Vaughn, Richard "Billy" S.
Wade, Wilbur

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