By Kathleen Knowles and Pat North
Originally Published on August 21st, 2018.
After nearly a year of planning, fundraising, parades, and preparing the competition show, the “Impossible Dream” was about to be set in high gear. This was the day all members of the Port Huron High School Big Red Marching Machine and their chaperones were to report to the high school. Excitement ruled the day as everyone arrived, ready to head across the Atlantic for a trip of a lifetime.
Equipment, uniforms, and suitcases filled the lawn in front of the band room. The band’s unsung heroes, the Stajarmy, under the direction of band booster, Jim Muir and Stajarmy Captain Scott Smith, supervised the loading of the truck, which would carry the Machine’s equipment and luggage to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The members of the Stajarmy traveled with the truck to ensure it arrived safely with no unexpected incidents.
The school’s parking lot was packed with crowds of well wishers, families, BRMM members, and chaperones awaiting the arrival of buses to take them to the Detroit International terminal. Photo: (above) B. North; (below) E. Payton
The hour and a half trip to the airport seemed much shorter as students and chaperones alike chatted and talked about the anticipated trip overseas. Upon arriving at the airport on August 14th, the army of red windbreakers lined up at the counters, armed with passports to check in. It was a much simpler process than today, post 9-11. Each face was matched to the picture on the passport of the individual. They were given their boarding passes and waited to be called to board the plane.
The loading of the instruments, equipment and suitcases into the DC Stretch 8 was done by the Stajarmy, a process that would never be allowed today! As told in an earlier article, the cargo area of the plane had been measured, so when the Stajarmy arrived at the airport, they knew exactly how they were going to load the equipment and suitcases into the plane. They had it down to a science!
The Big Reds got their first taste of “Hurry up and wait!” as they were rushed into the line to check in, and then were forced to wait for the loading of the equipment. It seemed to the excited Machine members that it was taking forever, when in truth, the Stajarmy probably had the plane loaded faster than the airline employees would have!
Top: Photo, E. Payton
Middle, Bottom: An army of volunteers worked untold hours to build, pack, & load crates as well as unload, & unpack at every venue we performed. Our Stajarmy. These are just a few of the crates that contained equipment, uniforms, instruments,& signs. Photos: B. North
“Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high, into the sun.”
Wild Blue Yonder (The Air Force Song)
Video: Owning a “movie” camera was rare in 1972. Our thanks to the Slumpff and Eveningred families for finding these and allowing their use.
Once everyone was boarded on the chartered DC Stretch 8, the bird took flight at 7:00 in the evening. Everyone was strapped in for the first leg of the trip, which would take them to Gander, Newfoundland. Upon arriving in the Canadian city, and since there was a bit of a layover, everyone deplaned to do some shopping. In the meantime, the plane was refueled for the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Payton remembers, “The kids slept most of the way. The flight was unusually quiet.”
The Big Reds arrived in Amsterdam on August 15th at 9:30 in the morning, the clock moving ahead six hours due to the time difference between the two cities. Waiting for them were buses, which were far more comfortable than the school buses that transported them from the high school to the airport. The band was driven to the Student Cok, which was the equivalent to a hostel. Paired up in fours with the girls separated from the boys, the kids had to go down the hall to take showers.
Middle: Our first “hotel”, the Youth Hostel Cok. Ten to a room was like camp. Settling in here are (L) Sally Smith, Diane Stoner, Sharon Deluca, Deb Smith – Larner. Photo: D. Smith – Larner
Bottom: Port Huron Mayor, “Scotty” Hanton speaking at the opening ceremonies, Dam Square, Amsterdam. Photo: S.D. Smith
The next morning, August 16th, chaperones were up early knocking on the doors of every student room, rousting the Big Reds out of their slumber. A busy day ahead was planned. The entire Marching Machine was bused to Dam Square where they were set to perform with the other competing bands. At 11:00 in the morning, the Amsterdam deputy mayor and Port Huron’s own mayor, Oliver “Scotty” Hanton welcomed all those that had gathered in the square. (the Big Reds were the only band represented by the mayor of their hometown)
Performing in Dam Square, the Big Reds played several numbers jointly with the other competing bands to a very large crowd. The kids, communicating with those at home, joked about playing in the “damn” square!”
Box lunches were provided before the Machine lined up for a parade through the streets of Amsterdam. Payton’s pre-planning of finding out the widths of the streets the Band would march down paid off. The Marching Machine was the only band that was prepared to reduce from a ten-man front down to a five-man front where the streets narrowed, allowing a comfortable distance between the marching members. All other bands had to squeeze together, marching uncomfortably shoulder-to-shoulder which was awkward compared to the Big Reds’ easy transition.
Top: The 13 competing bands played en mass in Amsterdam’s Dam Square. Photo: Payton collection
Bottom: Stepping off for the first of many parades in Europe. Photos: S.D. Smith
The Machine marched to Museum Square where they again performed with the competition bands. With the concerts and parade completed, some play time was in order. In plexiglass covered boats, they cruised down the Amsterdam canals, relaxing and enjoying the sites.
The kids, along with their chaperones had dinner in a large hall and returned to the hostels. When the mayor of Amsterdam discovered the Port Huron mayor’s room was in the basement with water on the floor, he picked him up and took him to a first-class hotel!
The next morning everyone boarded deluxe buses. The same drivers and guides would remain with the Marching Machine throughout the trip except when touring East Berlin. For the duration, they would become members of the Big Red family.
On Thursday, August 17th, the Big Reds bid Amsterdam a fond farewell to travel to West Berlin, Germany. At noon, the drivers pulled into a rest stop. It was time for lunch, which consisted of milk, an apple and hard bread. The adults ate, but it was not exactly what the kids wanted, preferring hot dogs and hamburgers. Most threw it out! German citizens eagerly collected and ate the hard bread! Not used to the food in Europe, the members of the Marching Machine were not eating well. Later on, dehydration would threaten to become a problem among the kids.
Top: Crowds spilled into the narrow streets during parades. Photo: Simpson
Middle: Amsterdam was not all work and no play. The boat tour of the canals gave time to relax and in a short time see many of the important sights. Docents added to it with their “audio tour”. Photos: P. North
Bottom: We had forgotten that World War II had only ended 27 years earlier. Many people in Germany were still feeling the effects of the economic devastation from the war. Photo: B. North
Unlike today, in 1972, Germany was divided into East and West Germany. The Big Reds had to travel through West Germany, but in order to reach their destination in West Berlin, they had to go through communist East Germany to get there. The East Germans gave the Big Reds a hard time getting through the check point.
After being boarded by armed guards at the check point going into East Germany, the journey through East Germany was disconcerting. All the bus signage and identifiers had to be removed and the buses traveled much of the way in darkness. There were no highway lights at all until we reached West Berlin. When the Yellow Bus had a flat tire, everyone on the bus was nervous. The Polizei who found them were angry that a bus full of Americans had gone missing. They insisted that no photos be taken, but these were taken on the sly. The Yellow Bus’s “Little Bit of Sunshine”, as their banner read, was gone that day. Photos: B. North
The Yellow Bus broke down in East Germany on the way to West Berlin. When the Band had crossed into East Germany, they were tracked as to how long it should take them to reach the check point going into Berlin. The Big Reds showed up one bus short and the Politzei (police) were sent to find the missing Americans! The Yellow Bus was repaired and it arrived in West Berlin much later than the others.
Left: The Hotel Roxy in West Berlin housed several buses. Photo: B North
Middle: An East German soldier stands guard at the bullet riddled ruins of the Reichstag that held the German Parliament and was used by the Nazis. It fell into decay after the war and was restored and in use after German reunification in 1999. Photo: S. Slumpf-Basnaw
Right: A section of the Berlin Wall. (East Berlin in background). The grassy area between the walls and tank guards was a mined “no-man’sland.” The wall was built hastily overnight and used the facades of buildings as part of the wall. You can see part of one to the right. Photo: D. Smith-Larner
Now a symbol of peace and unity, the Brandenburg Gate was then a reminder of a Germany that once was. When the wall was built, it became part of it. Many people escaped the East by jumping countless barriers around it to reach freedom. Many lost their lives doing so. Looking into East Berlin from the West. Photo: P. North
The Big Reds had lunch at the Schultheiss Brauhaus in East Berlin. Afterwards, they boarded the buses. Roll call was taken and it was established everyone was aboard. However, on the Yellow Bus, one student discovered he had forgotten his red windbreaker. Grant Smith opened the back door of the bus, unnoticed by parents and students alike. He went back into the restaurant and retrieved his jacket. When he arrived outside, the buses were gone! He had been left behind! Since roll call determined everyone was aboard, and no one saw Grant leave the bus, there was no reason to delay departure.
Video: Staging, warming up, & stepping off for Berlin parade.
Fortunately, Grant did not panic. He simply got into a taxi and told the driver to take him to Checkpoint Charlie. To his relief (and that of his father’s, Doctor S. Davis Smith), Grant rejoined the Marching Machine.
Left: Grant Smith with his Yellow Bus in front of the Hotel Lamm. (Chaperone Dave Ballard mugging) Photo: B. North
Middle: Relieved chaperones, Joyce & Keith Stoner at Checkpoint Charlie. Photo: B. North
Right: Checkpoint Charlie looking into East Berlin. East German soldiers armed the guard tower with machine guns. Photo: E. Payton
With nothing on the schedule for the afternoon, the kids were given the time off to go shopping, sightseeing or just remain at the hotels.
In the evening, the Marching Machine did a stand up concert in Reinickendorf Markisches Viertel in West Berlin. A huge crowd had gathered to listen to the talented American High School Band. However, not everyone was there to enjoy the music. As Drum Major George Rinderspacher conducted the band, a woman came out of the crowd and stabbed him in the shoulder with a hatpin. She was quickly apprehended by German police, but it was obvious George would need medical attention. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was bandaged and given a tetanus shot. Eric Payton took over the directing duties for the last few numbers. While the band played, band boosters passed out the booklets and coins to those who had come to listen.
August 19th was another full day for the Big Reds. After sightseeing in West Berlin in the morning, the Marching Machine lined up beside the ruins of the church, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, which had been bombed during World War II. They marched and played their music down Kurfurstendamm Strasse. For one of the parents on the trip, Bert North, it was the second time he had marched down that street. It was an emotional trek, as he remembered the last time he marched down that very street was when the United States military freed the German people from the Nazis.
Top: Crowds surround the BRMM as they make their way toward Kurfurstendam. The TV tower in East Berlin is seen in the distance. Photo: Loft Studios, courtesy S. Slumpf-Basnaw
Middle: Thunderbirds mid-routine. Photo: B. North
Bottom: Our Color guard out-front, leading the way. (L) Zephra Shazier, Gladys Nichols, Virginia Witherspoon, Minnie Porter, & Leola Williams. Photo: B. North
Those along the parade route waved the booklets they receive the day before, as the Band passed by. People began following the marching pied pipers along the parade route; the further they marched the larger the crowd grew behind them.
Top: Marching down Kurfurstendam Str. in front of the historic Memorial Church left in ruin as a reminder of WWII. Crowds spilled into the street and chaperones had to walk along side the band to keep the area clear. Photos: Top, Simpson family; Left: B. North
Below: Flags mid-routine and Sousaphones rockin’ to the cadence. Can you imagine doing that for 5 miles? Photos: B. North
Crowds follow the band in the West Berlin parade. Photo: B. North
Swimming venue, practice underway. Photo: P. North Middle: The Olympic Village and Munich skyline. Photo: P. North
“Little Red” Thunderbird Brenda Dawson-Adcoe, Drum Major George Rinderspacher, and Shelly FennerKrasney climb the Crosscountry hill. Photo: B. North
“Cause we don’t hide, We parade our pride!
Ana Claudia Antunes
The Weisbaden parade. This photo was used for the BRMM’s “Thank you” Christmas card that year. Photo: E. Payton
Mr. Payton was approached by an excited man who was stationed there in the Army. Ron Kingsbury attended the parade and could not believe it when he saw the lollipop signs that announced P O R T H U R O N. Ron was in a foreign country, half-way around the world, watching his hometown band march down the street in Wiesbaden! Payton said, “He told me it blew his mind to see so many people from home. He had not heard the Big Reds were going to be in Germany.”
Left: Drum Major George Rinderspacher shows his style with Port Huron Mayor, Scotty Hanton, Dr. S. Davis Smith, Director Payton, and PHHS Principal Wydrzynski marching with the band. Photo: B.North
Middle & Right: Chaperones worked hard to get the pictures! Bert North & Keith Stoner “borrowed” a nearby ladder to get to the highest vantage point possible. The owner found the ladder, removed it, and reported the theft to a policeman, leaving Bert stranded. Once an interpreter stepped in, all was forgiven. Photos: B. North
Funny things happen during performances. This State College High School (Pennsylvania) Sousaphone player must have run a long way to catch up with his band. Photo: B. North
William Revelli, Dir. of Bands at the Univ. of Mich., with his student, John Dell. John was a PHHS alumnus who generously came back to help train the band for the competition. Photo: B. North
The Big Reds did not know William Revelli (Director of Bands at the University of Michigan) was there watching them practice. When he approached Payton, the director asked him what he thought of the band’s performance. Revelli responded, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll do great.”
Only one practice was held before the competition and it had been over 10 days since the routine had been rehearsed. One practice field hand no lines, one was measured in meters… but everyone knew their part. Photos: B. North
After the practice was over, the Big Reds were taken to the Air Force base for lunch. Hamburgers! It is not to say the kids did not appreciate the German cuisine, but it could not compete with good ole American hamburgers, french fries, and apple pie. The Big Reds chowed down. One would have sworn they had not eaten in two weeks!
In the after noon, all uniforms were picked up at the hotels and sent out to be dry-cleaned so they would be fresh for the competition.
The next day, August 24th was the day the Port Huron High School Big Red Marching Machine had worked so hard for nine months… The Competition!
Top Left: Waiting and waiting in the stands. Photo: E. Payton
Top Right: “Lollipop” Port Huron sign carrier, Sue Dawson-Stark warming up. Photo: B. North
Bottom Left: Band! Take the field! In formation to perform the required “marching block” move. Photo: Loft Studios, courtesy S. Slumpf-Basnaw
Bottom Right: The routine featuring the Thunderbirds. Photo: Loft Studios, courtesy S. Slumpf-Basnaw -Because the stadium was a soccer venue, there was no high vantage point as is usual in the U.S. The darkness made it very difficult to photograph as well.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
The Big Reds were up bright and early. The entire morning was at their leisure. They had lunch at the Amelia Earhart Hotel. Their uniforms were returned to them at 3:30 in the afternoon, clean and fresh for the competition. The brand new Hush Puppies shoes that were provided by Wakeen’s Shoe Store for the band members to wear were passed out.
The Marching Machine boarded the buses for the thirty minute ride to the Wiesbaden Stadium where the competition was to be held. Mr. Payton was greeted by Robert Schneider, an opera singer with a deep baritone voice, who would be the announcer for the Big Reds performance. Mr. Schneider was a graduate of Port Huron High School and lived in Germany. Most of the bands simply had a parent or school staff member as an announcer. Once again, the Big Reds did it with finesse! Before the competition would take place there was an inspection. Standing at attention, the Big Reds were inspected for continuity. Every detail was checked from uniforms worn exactly the same, white gloves, polished spats and shoes, instruments held exactly alike and all eyes forward with no movement. When the inspection was completed, the Marching Machine received the ighest score possible … 100%!
Top: The BRMM performs their Paddlewheel Riverboat routine to Old Man River (arr. Himes) complete with moving paddlewheel, smoke, and undulating wave action. Photo: B. North
Bottom: Their routing featuring the Thunderbirds. Photo: B. North
Video: A small bit of the BRMM competition performance. Note for the record, the marching block formation the judge missed seeing. It is quite dark. Ours was the last band to perform, quite late in the evening. Movie cameras then weren’t made for filming in low light.
Now all they had to do was wait their turn to enter the field. As it turned out, they waited the longest as they were the last band to perform. When the band in front of them completed their show, the Marching Machine lined up in the end-zone.
The Bosse High School Band of Evansville, Indiana. Photo: B. North
Top Left: Cruising on the Rhine. Photo: B. North
Top Right: Chaperones who taught at Washington Jr. High: (L) Jan & Denny Turner, Armand & Jennie Nordberg, Mary & Howard Buckowski, (front) Dir. Eric & Peggy Payton. Photo: E. Payton
Bottom: passing scenic castles and villages. Photo: B. North
Although the Big Reds were disappointed, it did not hamper the rest of their trip. While the Bosse Band won the honor of playing outside the entrance of the Olympic Village the next day, the Big Reds and their chaperones took a cruise down the Rhine River from Wiesbaden to Saint Goarshausen. With the pressure of the competition out of the way, the members of the band, its groups and chaperones enjoyed the cruise and the sites.
Upon returning, the Big Reds had dinner at the Frankfurt Hotel before heading for the Rhine-Main-Hall in Wiesbaden for the awards ceremony. When the Marching Machine was recognized, the Bosse Band gave the Big Reds a standing ovation.
On August 26th, two concerts were performed, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon in the Rhine-Main area.
The head of the competition committee awards the trophy to Director Eric Payton. Photos: B. North
Stand-up concerts were very popular with townspeople. We performed twice in the plaza of the Rhine-Main area. Photo: B. North
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”
In a sobering experience, the Big Reds also visited the concentration camp in Auschwitz. They viewed the incinerators used by the Nazis for burning the thousands of murdered Jews.
Having reached the end of the two week tour, and as the saying goes, All good thing must come to an end! It was time for the Big Red Marching Machine and its chaperones to return to the “Land of the Free.”
Playing to a packed house, standup plaza concert, Rhine-Main area. Photos: B. North
After a day of leisure on the 27th, the Marching Machine packed up one last time and headed to the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. They arrived at 7:00 in the morning, and the plane lifted off at 9:00. Unlike the trip to Europe, which had been rather quiet, the trip home was not. On the way over, most of the flight was overnight. This one was during the day when everyone was wide awake. The plane was filled with chatter as students and chaperones talked about their experiences and shared tidbits. There was much excitement and laughter.
Left: view of Heidelberg from Castle. Photo: P. North
Right: Heidelberg Castle. Photo: E. Payton
Once again, there was a short layover in Newfoundland before the next leg of the trip home. The Big Reds actually flew directly over Port Huron in route to Detroit. As the plane hit the runway at Metro Airport, Howie Furman began singing “God Bless America” and everyone on the entire plane joined in. It was great to visit and travel through Europe, but nothing beats the good ole USA!
The Port Huron Area School buses were waiting when the Big Reds exited the plane. The equipment was loaded up and the final leg of the “Impossible Dream” took them back to Port Huron High School.
Upon reaching Saint Clair County, Sheriff Norman Meharg met the Big Reds and gave them a police escort to the school. Dozens of cars were also waiting; some of them waving signs that declared, “Welcome Home, Big Reds, we’re proud of you!” As the buses pulled into the parking lot at Port Huron High School, they were again met with a huge crowd welcoming them home.
“The real voyage of discovery consist not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Homecoming! Cars were double parked on the freeway waving, honking and holding signs. Stores and business marquees welcomed the Big Reds home. People ran out to the street to wave and clap as the buses paraded through downtown. Hundreds were waiting for the BRMM at the high school to welcome them home. There’s no place like home! Photos: E. Payton.
We in America, sometimes go through life taking much for granted. The trip to Europe opened the eyes of those of us who were privileged enough to go. Seeing how other cultures lived, ate and endured, especially through World War II, served as a reminder of how lucky we, as a people are. We live in a country in freedom, most of us living a comfortable life, and are protected by the greatest military in the world.
Europe and the Netherlands were wonderful to visit, but not one individual on that trip walked away without a new perspective, not only on the countries we visited, but on our own country as well.
Those of us “kids” who were fortunate enough to be at the right age when this wonderful opportunity presented itself, learned a lesson and had an experience of a lifetime. We are indebted to all the wonderful people in the city of Port Huron and around the state of Michigan for making the “Impossible Dream” one of the fondest memories of our lives. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our parents who stood by us and endured all the ups and downs with us for that unbelievable nine months.
However, this series of articles would be remiss if we did not recognize the one person that worked tirelessly, and believed in us and our goal. That one person is, of course, Eric Payton. His love for his kids knew no bounds. He gave up nearly a year of his personal life, working from the time he got up to the time he went to bed at night. Mr. Payton never gave up on our dream, despite the fact of being told what he was attempting was impossible. He simply did not know the meaning of the word.
For the members of the 1971-72 Marching Machine, he will forever be remembered as our knight in shining armor. He did not do it alone, but he most definitely was the catalyst that made the trip come true, which most of us would otherwise never have been able to experience in our lifetimes. So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Mr. Payton for all you did. It will always be a part of us, and so will you!
Our director, the one who dreamed, Mr. Eric Payton.
Above: Weisbaden, 1972. Photo: B. North
Below: 2015, the 43rd year reunion of our dream come true. Photo: N. Eveningred-Nunez
So for those of you that were in the band which made the trip to Europe, take the time to reflect on what that trip meant to you, and remember there is a whole new crop of kids in the Marching Machine today who still look up to the 1972 Marching Machine and its accomplishments. Help make their dream come true. Allow them, in part, to enjoy the advantages we had forty-six years ago. Be sure to watch for an article on the 2018 Marching Machine, and Pat North will tell you how you can make their “Impossible Dream” come true.
We hope we have brought back many fond memories of a time we all shared together. It was a pleasure to relive the “Impossible Dream” with you through these series of articles. Thank you to Blue Water Healthy Living for the opportunity for us to do so.
To view past articles in the series that cover the whole Big Red Marching Machine’s trip to the 1972 Olympics follow the links below.
To View Part 1 of the Series Click Here
To View Part 2 of the Series Click Here
To View Part 3 of the Series Click Here
To View Part 4 of the Series Click Here
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.
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