DALLAS (AP) — In the late afternoon, in a quiet corner of the State Fair, the crowds flocked to the bleachers, surrounding the dozens of musicians who stood on the field in perfectly straight lines.
Then, at 4 o'clock sharp, thunderous music erupted from the instruments of the men and women clad in white hats, scarlet suits and shiny black shoes.
The U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, armed with bugles, drums and cymbals, is once again wowing fairgoers with a medley of patriotic and popular tunes, from "Semper Fidelis" to "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" to "Rocky Top."
Since 1963, the musical Marines have performed each year at the State Fair of Texas. You can't beat the size and spirit of the State Fair crowds, Master Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Buckles said.
"This is the biggest and best fair in the country, and we're the premier musical organization and the premier fighting force, so that's why we're here," he said. "Seeing the reaction from the crowds, it's so energizing."
The group, based at the Marine Barracks in Washington, will perform Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before it heads out of town.
One afternoon last week, the audience munched on corny dogs and chugged sodas and lemonades. Moms bounced babies as they swayed to the music. The crowd was studded with military veterans, some of whom sat in wheelchairs, patting their knees.
The drum and bugle corps first performed at the State Fair in 1961 but skipped the following year's fair. No one knows why. The group returned in 1963.
Buckles has attended the fair since 1989, first as a percussionist. Now he's a drum major. He never tires of the fair.
After performances, veterans approach the Marines, swapping tales about military service. Others ask about uniforms and ranks. Some in the audience ask to take pictures with the Marines so they can send them to family members who are deployed.
"They're appreciative," Buckles said, "thankful for what we do and thankful for what we represent."
Following the 4 p.m. concert, the group heads over to the Hall of State for a 5 p.m. flag-lowering ceremony. Then, at 7:15, the Marines perform in the Reliant Starlight Parade.
The drum and bugle corps gives over 400 performances each year across the country and overseas. It performs at government and Marine Corps functions and visits Marine bases. The musicians also play at funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.
As long as members keep up their musical skills, they can stay with the group. Some have performed for 30 years.
"It builds a bond," said Gunnery Sgt. Keith Martinez, who joined the group in 2000. He now serves as an assistant drum major.
Staff Sgt. Codie Williams, who grew up in Richardson, saw the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps perform at the State Fair. Then her high school band director handed her a CD of the group's music.
"To be able to be a Marine and do what I love, which is music . it's the best job you could ever ask for," she said.
Harold and Judy Shelton of Mount Vernon say they've seen the State Fair performances for more than 30 years. Harold Shelton served in the Marines in the 1950s in the Korean War.
"Never call anybody an ex-Marine," Judy said. "There's no such animal. You're just temporarily off duty."
She makes sure her calendar is open the first two weeks of the State Fair so she can watch the group.
Harold enjoys the group's patriotism and esprit de corps. He's a musician, too, so during the performance he clapped and tapped his toes.
"We Marines are always together," he said. "It's a very strong brotherhood."
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com