Arch rivals to best friends

Rich Jones

This article was originally part of the March 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 12).

It is said that one should never volunteer while in the military. However, who could resist helping the Apollo space program and our quest to reach the moon. Two of the subjects chosen to test formulas for astronaut’s reserve space food were members of the Lackland AFB Drum and Bugle Corps.

In early 1968, I was the previous year’s drum major of the Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights, and Charlie Walsh, ex-contra base from the Boston Crusaders, we found ourselves in the close confinement of a small space capsule for over a month.

Consuming only a powder formula compressed into pills and drinking distilled water, Charlie and I lived in the capsule’s low pressure, enriched oxygen environment. The atmosphere simulated an altitude of 27,000 feet, with a mixture of 70% oxygen and 30% helium. To add extreme tension, this test was the first manned exposure to an enriched oxygen atmosphere since the fatal launch pad fire in 1967 that claimed three astronaut’s lives.

The experiment was conducted to determine the minimum food and water requirements for astronauts aboard a spacecraft. The results were instrumental for the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine to develop a contingency plan for the remaining Apollo space missions, including lunar landings.

Being drum corps archrivals turned out to be an advantage during the test. Selective bashing of Blessed Sac and Boston created a needed light and humorous atmosphere. We not only survived their extended close encounter, but we became best friends.

Emerging 25-pounds lighter and extremely hungry, we finally exited the capsule. The film of the capsule opening was shown on the CBS documentary “The Twentieth Century,” narrated by Walter Cronkite.

Today, I have a dual residence in Valrico, FL, and Sedona, AZ. I spent a year as a drum major with Florida Brass and occasionally slip back up north to lead America and National Emblem with Blessed Sac’s alumni corps. I led a few songs during the 2004 and 2005 DCA “Alumni Spectacular.”

Charlie Walsh is enjoying retirement close to Perry, GA, and attends DCI shows when he can. Rich and Charlie stay in touch with each other and, of course, their life-long friends from drum corps.