312th Band - The Early Years

By 1SG Retired Larry Williams
312th Army Band

The 312th Army Band had an alumni concert this year to help celebrate our 40th birthday. After the concert, one of the early 1SGs wrote this article about his days with the 312th.

312 USAR Band --- The Early Days
By 1SG Retired Larry R. Williams on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary, May 2013

In an attempt to enlist more women, the Army organized the 312th Army Band in 1973. It was housed at the Samuel Churchill Armory in Lawrence, Kansas to be attached to the 317th Support Battalion of the 89th Brigade. The plan was to recruit an all-women reserve band to the Army Band system.

In those first years, recruiting this new band was a struggle. The numbers failed to produce a functioning band. At the same time a young band officer, WO2 Paul Gray, was making waves building up the Kansas National Guard Band in Topeka. As his tour of duty finished with the Guard in 1976, he was asked to take over the 312th Band. However, he was given the charge to produce a band that could play and march within six months or the band would be dissolved. He led the nine women band, recruited a few more and received permission to also recruit men. He soon had a small band playing the Army Song and Billboard March just in time to beat the deadline.

Mr. Gray was a good choice to lead the band since he was a noted jazz musician in the Topeka/Kansas City area and knew most of the area’s music educators. He had training in music education, was an excellent problem solver, a good recruiter and a gifted politician. Within his first two years, he recruited a few mature musicians to help train the young recruits, but he needed a 1SG who knew the Army and music.

One of his friends, Larry Williams, was 1SG of Hq Battery, 2nd Bn, 127th Artillery in the Kansas National Guard, and orchestra director at Lawrence High School with a master’s degree in music education. Although he had a 20-year letter from the Army and was planning to retire, Mr. Gray convinced Williams that the band was a perfect fit for him with no break in Army service - just carry the retirement paper-work from Ottawa, his National Guard Headquarters, to Lawrence and the 312th. 1SG/Enlisted Bandleader Williams joined the 312th Band in January 1978.

Gray recruited some key members of his old National Guard Band, particularly some excellent jazzers along with soldiers and sailors who had been in other military bands. One of those was Sgt Bobby Duffer from the West Point Band, back to KU for his music ed. degree. ( Sgt Duffer would take over as 1SG in 1989 when Williams retired.) He also recruited a husband/wife team Harold and Becky Keen, some of the finest musicians in the area on trombone and flute. Williams began recruiting former LHS students who were going to KU along with other Marching Jayhawks. Two of the first recruits from the original band, Jodie Russell, a local police officer, and Rich Mozikowski, a trumpet playing psychologist, made sergeant in the early 80’s.

By 1980 the band was still small, with only one percussionist. Since the 312th marched without a drum major, Mr Gray would signal the bass drummer, who for years was the 1SG, to begin the roll-off. The one real drummer would play snare and a flutist would play cymbals. That led Williams to recruit Susan Hess-Hyde, a harpist, who would be trained to be percussionist. Her addition would lead to new opportunities for the band.

Mr. Gray began promoting the band to Generals and local/state officials of its availability to play at ceremonies and conferences. Jazz was the strongest musical element during those early days, so concert performances always included pop and jazz selections. The dance band was a hit at official functions.

With the addition of harp, the 1SG organized a dinner music group since he and Sgt Duffer also played violin and string bass. In the early '80s the band’s versatility provided Generals’ Conferences with dinner music, a short band concert and jazz ensembles for the dances. Invitations came to perform all over the Midwest. The 312th Army Band was selected to travel to many conference sites much closer to other bands because the dinner music strings were more like the Washington, D.C. bands.

When the band was not doing summer concert tours, the 312th Band became the official band at military forts when their bands went on leave. The band traveled to Ft. Carson, Colorado twice, Ft. Sam Houston, Texas twice, Ft. Riley, Kansas and The Presidio to be the Army Band for official functions.

Ft. Carson was a great summer camp for the band. It was there that Ssgt Rob Claggett, served as host, bus driver and drum major for 312th parades and ceremonies. Since Rob's time with the Ft. Carson Band was about up, Mr Gray convinced him that Lawrence was a great place to go to school and also serve in the 312th Band where there were leadership opportunities for a band sergeant. When Rob came to Lawrence the band gained a drum major, a soldier who knew the Army band system and a future 312th Army Band Commander.

During these early years as the 312th Band developed, many future leaders were recruited, notably Wayne Buckley, future 1SG and Cardell Edwards. One of the band’s flute players, Cindy Dary Ruggilo, went from a Sgt in the 312th to the President’s Own Marine Band in Washington, D.C. from which she recently retired.

The longevity of the band was assured when band members’ own children joined the band. Ray Linville’s legacy lives on with his daughter, Bethany, along with other daughters of members, Eric Sheffler and his daughter Aimee, plus Melanie and Melissa Claggett. And in the late 80’s the 312th Band grew and flourished. Many more fine musicians joined the band till it was actually over-strength. The military actually encouraged the extra positions because the band’s work was so exemplary.

The 1970’s and 80’s were only the beginning of the 312th USAR Band. The following 20 years also saw great accomplishments and musical growth from this fine military ensemble. Hopefully, these years of service will be also be recorded and remembered for many years to come.

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