When 15-year-old Emma Daily steps off with the Portsmouth High School (PHS) band in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade on Monday, Jan. 21, she’ll be following in the footsteps of her parents. Matt and Kathleen Daily both marched with PHS in Ronald Reagan’s inaugural parade on Jan. 20, 1981. Ms. Daily graduated in 1981, her husband in 1982. They recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.
Emma is one of several PHS band students — Samantha Pridgen, Casey Turner, Robert White, John Bagley and Josh and Rachel Dvorak are among the others — with parents who marched in the 1981 inauguration.
A sophomore who plays trumpet, Emma said she’s heard many stories from her parents about the 1981 trip, so she’s thrilled to be having the same opportunity. Pumping up the excitement level even more is band director Ted Rausch, who’s been showing students videos of other bands preparing for the trip of a lifetime.
“I frankly can’t believe it,” said Emma, who also has two aunts who marched with the PHS band in 1981. “At first I thought it must not be that big of a deal, but after everything Mr. Rausch has shown us — all the videos and stuff — I’m really getting the magnitude of it. It’s amazing.”
It was an amazing thing for her mom back in 1981, too.
“I couldn’t believe that we, from our little state and hometown, were going down to D.C. I used to talk politics with my dad all the time, and then look — you’re down there and part of history,” said Kathleen.
As proud as she is that Emma will be marching for a president, Ms. Daily said the grandparents are even more excited. “They cannot get over it. My dad said, ‘The best thing you ever did was to go to Portsmouth High and stay in Portsmouth and all these good things are happening,’” she said.
Jackie Shearman, a longtime volunteer for the band and a chaperone for the 1981 trip, is another grandparent who has two generations of family involved in the parade. Her daughter, Karen Shearman, marched in 1981, while Karen’s daughter, sophomore flutist Samantha Pridgen, is heading to D.C. with the band on Sunday.
“Awesome,” was Karen Shearman’s reaction on hearing the surprise news (see related story) that the band would be making a return inaugural trip. “I had been babbling to her for years about how I went and she had already seen all the pictures,” she said. “I was overwhelmed and the both of us are so excited.”
Memories of 1981
Mr. Daily’s most vivid memory of the band’s 1981 inaugural appearance, oddly enough, isn’t the parade itself.
“I honestly don’t remember much of it — the marching part. It’s pretty much a blur. I remember walking in front of the glass-covered booth (in which the president and first lady Nancy Reagan were sitting). We weren’t allowed to look over there …”
“Except that I did,” said Ms. Daily.
“I’m such a goody two-shoes that I just looked straight ahead,” her husband said.
No, what sticks out the most for him were the outdoor band practices in Portsmouth during the weeks leading up to the trip.
“It was freezing,” he said.
In early 1981 the East Bay region was in the grips of one of its coldest Januarys in memory. The record-breaking temperatures — as low as minus-10 degrees — formed a heavy cover of ice over large parts of Narragansett Bay, making life miserable for local shellfishermen, the Prudence Ferry and the Coast Guard. Add the Portsmouth High School marching band to that list.
Eventually the band was allowed to use a heated building at Naval Station Newport. “I remember going into Building 80 and trying to march with all the echoes in there. We all had our long underwear on and we were roasting,” said Mr. Daily.
It was nearly as balmy in D.C. as inside that Navy hangar: 55 degrees — the warmest of any January inaugural. “I remember almost nothing of the actual marching except that I was hot and my head was sweating from those helmets,” he said.
The Jan. 20, 1981 inaugural celebration was historic and celebratory for another reason, as it was the same day a national crisis came to an abrupt end. While newly sworn-in President Ronald Reagan was wrapping up his 20-minute inaugural address, 52 Americans who had been held hostage in Iran for 444 days were being released into United States custody.
The president didn’t announce the news until the traditional Congressional luncheon immediately following his swearing-in. Not surprisingly, the luncheon ran longer than usual while the PHS band and other units waited patiently for the parade to step off.
“I remember standing at parade rest for what seemed like hours,” said Ms. Shearman, whose arms hurt from her being at attention for so long. (Like Matt, the parade itself is a hazy memory for her. “Thank God we have a picture of it,” she joked.)For friends and family watching the PHS band back home, the release of the hostages did have one downside: The band was on TV only for a few fleeting seconds before the national news feed cut away to coverage of the freed Americans returning home.
Diana White, administrative assistant at the high school who accompanied the band in 1981, remembers a moment that vividly symbolized the hostages’ return. Former President Jimmy Carter had ordered that the national Christmas tree not be lit during the hostage crisis, she recalled.
“We were doing a night tour and as we were coming around the corner, the tree went on and we knew the hostages had been released,” she said. “That still gives me goosebumps.”
After the parade, the band played a concert on the steps of The Capitol — one of only a handful of bands chosen to do so. Although they went over well enough, some band members couldn’t get off the stage fast enough after hearing the overpowering intro from the UMass Amherst Minuteman Marching Band.
“I just remember them going on and blowing us away,” said Mr. Daily. Added Diana White: “They almost knocked us off.”
Congratulations from ‘Mr. A’
The PHS band was one of only 10 high school units nationwide selected to march in the inaugural parade on Monday. No one was happier to see the Patriots make a return trip to D.C. than the man who led them in President Reagan’s inaugural. Ray Ainsworth, PHS band director in 1981, stopped by the school last week to offer his congratulations.“He said he was proud that the program was still going strong and he was excited to see Portsmouth going again,” said Mr. Rausch. He retrieved the band’s plaque commemorating the 1981 inauguration — still hanging in the band room — showed it to “Mr. A,” then posed with him for a picture.
Mr. Rausch said his students should count their blessings.
“There are bands that have worked for years to get in this parade,” said Mr. Rausch, noting that his band never applied to be in the parade but always works hard at its craft. “This was handed to us, so it’s important for the kids not to take it for granted. We shouldn’t appreciate this any less.’”
Ms. Shearman said her daughter Samantha got the message.
“She really appreciates the fact that they worked hard for it and she cannot wait to go,” she said, adding that memories of marching in 1981 make it even more special for her family.
“We had a blast and it was such an honor.”
The band is still accepting donations toward its trip. They can be sent to PHS Music Boosters, PO Box 21, Portsmouth, RI 02871. You can also donate through the Music Boosters website at www.portsmouthmusicboosters.org.
Jim McGaw marched with the PHS band in the 1981 inaugural parade. His son Max is doing the same on Monday.