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History for Pittsburgh Rockets Pittsburgh, PA
Inactive Senior Corps founded in 1947 Did you march Pittsburgh Rockets?
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homepage: http://pittsburghrockets.20fr.com/
In early 1947, twelve men from Homewood American Legion Post 351 organized the senior drum and bugle corps that was to become the Pittsburgh Rockets. Homewood Post had sponsored a SAL (Sons of the American Legion) junior drum corps in the 1930s, and returning veterans reorganized as a senior corps. In the summer of 1947 the Rockets took to the field.

The corps' first uniforms were black cadet-style outfits with red trim. These were replaced in the early 1950s by the well-known two-tone satin blouses, black with one red sleeve. During these early years, the Rockets steadily gained valuable experience and gradually started to climb the ladder of success.

The corps evolved from the small unit of the early days into one of the largest and most famous senior corps in the country. Under the direction and guidance of Joe and Val Capone and Ed Cagney, and behind virtuoso soprano solo work by Riggie Laus, the Rockets established many firsts in the bugle corps field, both musically and in their equipment.

When the Central Penn Circuit of drum and bugle corps was organized, the Rockets rose to the top with a succession of victories. The West Penn Circuit came into being, and the Rockets quickly became the top corps in this association as well. In 1953, Homewood Post decided to send its top-flight corps to the American Legion National Championships in St. Louis. The Rockets made the top ten in their very first try, and continued to gain a top-ten spot every year they attended.

With national prominence beckoning, the Rockets continued to win throughout 1954, capping the year with their first-division finish at the Legion Nationals in Washington, D.C. Steadily, the corps gained the polish and the assurance of a true national contender. Leading contests throughout the East and Midwest extended invitations to the Rockets.

In 1957, the corps purchased new uniforms consisting of white satin blouses with a red diagonal stripe, black trousers with red and white stripe, and the now-famous West German police helmets, imported from Berlin especially for the Rockets. Another successful year was crowned with another trip to Legion Nationals, this time in Atlantic City.

The winter of 1957-58 was extraordinary in many ways. The night before Thanksgiving, Homewood Post burned in a spectacular fire that threatened to snuff out the life of the Rockets. Much of the corps' equipment was lost. The corps' competitive spirit overcame the adversity, however, and that winter they pulled together like never before. A national fund-raising drive successfully lifted the Rockets back to a strong financial foundation. Thousands of drum corps fans all over the country contributed and became "part-owners" of the Rockets.

The 1958 season featured a much-enlarged corps (39 horns, 9 drums, 12-man guard, two drum majors). In terms of success, this was the start of a new era at Homewood Post. The Rockets competed in many top contests, defeating many big-time corps they had not been able to overcome before. The best performances of the year came at Legion Nationals in Chicago where the corps placed fifth out of 34 corps; and at the Dream Contest in New Jersey where they won the hearts of the crowd and a permanent spot in the annals of drum corps.

In 1959 and 1960, the Rockets continued to win and place with the best in the country, and journeyed to Minneapolis for the Legion Nationals, placing fourth in the country.

1961 was a year of experiment with new instructors and a "space" theme. New blouses of blue, red, and white were added to the uniform in an attempt to present a different look. After a fair season, however, including another trip to the Dream Contest, the space theme was shoved out the airlock.

Returning to the semi-classical and show tunes they were famous for, the Rockets in 1962 also returned to the familiar white blouses with red stripe, and again began to move up nationally.

In 1963, a high level of achievement was maintained in competition, and the corps sponsored its own first contest, the Steel City Spectacle of Music. The climax of the 1963 season came when the Rockets traveled to Jersey City, New Jersey, and placed fifth in the World Open Championship.

The 1964 edition of the Rockets was highlighted by an entirely new music and drill show, plus new white satin blouses with red sequin baldric sashes. Powerful marches such as "El Capitan" and the Armed Forces songs combined with Broadway show-stoppers from "Gigi" and "Flower Drum Song."

Membership of the Rockets represented all parts of the Greater Pittsburgh area. Their combined efforts resulted in one of the nation's most appealing senior drum and bugle corps.

The Pittsburgh Rockets continued to perform and compete into the 1970s. The corps' best DCA achievement was the very first one, 1965, where they finished sixth. Their final DCA appearance was in 1973.

An effort to re-form in 1977 was ultimately unproductive, and the Rockets disbanded for good.

Instrumental to the corps' success was Edward P. Cagney, who played for 26 years and instructed for 30. Cagney was elected to the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2002.

And from its earliest days, the corps' horn line was anchored by soprano virtuouso Riggie Laus. National soprano soloist champion for eight years, Laus is a member of the Drum Corps Hall of Fame, and continues to perform to enthusiastic receptions into his 70s.

[DCW, 8/30/02, p.22; DCW, 6/28/02, p.9; Ed Cagney; John Gruphofer; Bob Menear]

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