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The Tarleton Military Marching Band

By Frank Chamberlain

The first marching band at Tarleton was organized in 1919 with only nine members. The students were not very experienced and did not know any marches. They had also never performed in public. Since that time, it evolved into one of the finest marching assemblies in the state (Guthrie 383).

Dennis G. Hunewell deserves credit for turning this small and unrefined group into an elite marching unit. Hunewell was hired at Tarleton in 1920 and immediately began the arduous task of building the Military Band that would eventually bring a considerable amount of acclaim to the university. He conducted the band until his retirement in 1942 (Guthrie 382-385).

The Military Band was a key component in Dean J. Thomas Davis’s massive public relations projects of the 1920s and 1930s. One of the largest of these events was the special “Tarleton Day” at the 1922 State Fair of Texas. The cadets exhibited their marching precision in a parade through the fairgrounds and presented a concert for the fairgoers. In 1924, the band performed several songs on a national broadcast on WBAP radio. It was even a featured performer at the 1933 inauguration of governor Miriam Ferguson. The mere fact that the band was allowed to perform in such public forums speaks volumes about their abilities and of the dedication of Dennis Hunewell (Guthrie 53-54, 283-384).

Over the years, the Marching Band performed in hundreds of cities across Texas, earning numerous accolades and awards. These prizes included several victories in the San Antonio “Battle of the Flowers” which was the most prominent band contest of the 1920s and 1930s (Guthrie 384-385).

The most elite ROTC unit was the Wainwright Rifles drill team that was established in 1949. (This division was named after World War II General Mayhew Wainwright who commanded the American troops in the Philippines.) The students who composed this unit were required to audition and were voted on by the rest of the members. While marching, the Rifles did not employ a set pattern in their demonstrations. They learned a few basic movements, and then relied upon a great deal of improvisation. Their considerable skills were exhibited statewide at numerous competitions, army bases, and every home football game. The Rifles’ finest moment occurred in 1961, when they were invited to perform at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, they did not appear on television broadcasts of the events due to delays caused by poor weather (Guthrie 367-368).

The Wainwright Rifles have faded as a campus tradition in the last twenty years. A lack of student interest has prevented the unit from regaining its former glory. However, the Rifles are remembered at each home football game as the three-member ROTC color guard dons the traditional Wainwright uniforms and performs a brief march (Guthrie 369).

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.