“Taps for Truman:”
A Farewell to the Colonel

BY Colleen Devitt Karuza

Once, in a rare moment, you meet a person whose name is not exactly a household word, but who, nonetheless, profoundly affects the lives of thousands of other human beings. (Remember George Bailey in the Frank Capra movie It's a Wonderful Life?)


Retired Colonel Truman Crawford was one such person.

Born April 1, 1934 in Endicott, NY, Crawford began his musical career at the age of eight, playing the fife in a local fife and drum corps. While music would be his calling, drum and bugle corps would be his passion. Over a 50-year involvement with drum and bugle corps, Crawford served as instrumentalist, instructor, arranger, director, conductor, and mentor. But those who would come to know “The Colonel” and his music would never let those roles be said, read, heard or remembered without first prefacing them with the words “inspired and inspiring.”

Crawford took a serious interest in drum and bugle corps in his senior year of high school when he watched a performance of the U.S. Air Force Drum & Bugle Corps. Upon graduation, he joined the USAF Drum Corps. Two years later, he was appointed corps musical director and in 1957, he was promoted to master sergeant, non-commissioned officer in charge of the entire unit. He was still in his early 20s.

After a 10-year stint with the USAF Drum Corps, Crawford went on to become a musical director and arranger for several junior competitive drum corps, including the championship Chicago Royal Airs, Argonne Rebels, Toronto Optimists, Yankee Rebels and McHenry Viscounts.

His spirited jazz- and swing-inspired arrangements literally broke (and buried forever!) the mold of the traditional "marching band-style" music that characterized competitive drum corps in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Roll over, John Philip Sousa! By the mid-1960s, Crawford helped the Chicago Royal Airs craft a strong signature horn sound with soloists that added the right amount of sass, style and sizzle. For the first time, drums could enhance, and even dominate, a musical number with "music" of their own. Need proof? Listen to Crawford's arrangement of "Watermelon Man" or "VoodooMoon." Such imagination and versatility generated widespread change within the drum corps arena. Gradually, it was the music – and not just the marching and maneuvers – that drew new recruits to corps across the country and packed stadiums with loyal spectators each summer.

In 1965, the musical vision and richly textured arrangements of Truman Crawford also helped shepherd the Chicago Royal Airs to a three-way sweep of the major national championships (VFW, CYO, American Legion) - a feat that had never before been accomplished by a junior drum and bugle corps.

By the late 1960s, every major drum and bugle corps in North America had performed one or more of Crawford's arrangements – another milestone that has never been reached by any other musical director in the history of drum and bugle corps.

In 1967, Crawford became the commanding officer and musical director of the United States Marine Corps Drum & Bugle Corps, known as "The Commandant's Own." Christened the "oldest Marine on active duty" when he retired from that position in 1998, Colonel Crawford's contributions to drum and bugle corps had, by that time, filled several successful professional careers. He gave drum and bugle corps a lifetime of commitment and great music, and no one could have done more, said more, or worked harder to uphold the lessons, values, and "all-for-one, one-for-all" spirit of camaraderie espoused by drum and bugle corps members. The Colonel and his corps had performed before nine U.S. Presidents beginning with Dwight Eisenhower. Crawford was also invited, at President Jimmy Carter's request, to play at the Peace Talks at Camp David.

In 2002, at the age of 68, Crawford once again returned to his beloved drums and bugles – this time as musical director of the Chicago Royal Airs Reunion Corps, an impressively large subset of the original corps that disbanded after its 1968 season. While most of the Corps members had not held, much less played, an instrument in 30+ years, "The Colonel" worked his musical magic, turning back the hands of time until it felt – and sounded! – like 1965 again. The 2002 Chicago Royal Airs Reunion Corps was nothing less than spectacular!

On the heels of this triumph came news that stunned drum corps mebers and fans alike. Crawford was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - Lou Gehrig's disease – a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Sadly, “The Colonel” passed away on March 3, 2003.