World War I

Repasz Band and World War I
by John Hunsinger

When the U.S. entered World War I (WWI) in April 1917, many bandsmen from central Pennsylvania joined the Repasz Band, one of the oldest bands of its kind in continuous existence. The Repasz band had previously served in the Civil War (it played at the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomatox) and as the band of the 12th Regiment of the National Guard of Pennsylvania (1903-1912). This enlarged Repasz Band split into two bands. The younger men were formed into the “Repasz War Band” in July of 1917, with the rest staying in the regular band.

The “War Band” met for rehearsals two to three times a week and it was reported that “all are enthusiastic over the instructions they are receiving from John Hazel,2 who is working hard to perfect an efficient organization” (Grit, July 22, 1917). The band offered its services to Col. John Wood’s Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, but for reasons unknown it was not accepted. In September of 1917, 32 of the original 67 men who had volunteered for service were sent to the naval training center at Charlotte, New York. Repasz Band member S. M. Wachtel, who had recruited the band, served as its leader. John Hazel honored these men by writing the march Our Blue Jackets, with the dedication “to the Repasz volunteers in the World War.”

By October the band was stationed at Irondequoit, New York, and “was considered one of the best bands in the service” (Grit, October 21, 1917). It was later transferred to the Pelham Naval Station near New York City. The band toured the country appearing in recruiting drives and Liberty Loan campaigns. In March of 1918, Wachtel was promoted and made bandmaster over 12 regimental bands. In September of 1918, D. M. Gerry started to recruit members for a second Repasz War Band but the Armistice in November halted that effort.

During this wartime period, the regular Repasz Band under Hazel, in addition to regular concert dates, participated in the large parades that were held to send the drafted men off to war and other wartime parades. One such parade in September 1917 to honor Lycoming County defenders had 6,000 participants. The “granddaddy” of all WWI parades, however, was the victory parade held on November 12, 1918. More than 10,000 people marched that day. The Repasz Band in blue and the Lycoming Foundry Band in gray merged to form the large Blue and Gray Band in honor of the occasion.

The following are known members3 of the Pelham Navy Band:
Sylvester M. Wachtel, conductor
Joseph Fowler, drums
Joseph Bartolamei, clarinet
Tracy Roupp, clarinet
Roy Duck, sax
Sol Reber, sax
Joseph Siegfried, cornet
William Buchle, cornet
Fordyce Cammal, cornet
Herbert Forshaw, cornet
Vredenberg Kommey
John Bremmeman
Charles Hassinger, trombone
Cecil Crafts, trombone
Stanley Mummaw, trombone
Barney Prentiss
Jay Ziegler, bass
Jay W. Wachtel, horn
Roy Henry
Mike Shannon, alto
Tony O’Conner
Valentine Nierle, bass
Charles Fogel, drums
Crittenden, clarinet
Miller, trombone


A photo captioned “Repasz Naval Band at Irondequoit, N.Y.” in the October 21, 1917 issue of the Grit stated “The Repasz Naval band, stationed at Irondequoit, N.Y., already has established a reputation as one of the very best of those enlisted since expansion of the military and naval forces of the nation was undertaken.       Accompanying picture is from a photograph of the band taken a few days ago, and sent to Harry Parker, manager of the Repasz band.       It shows not only the men and their uniforms, but also the instrumentation.”

[1]   Article researched and written by John Hunsinger, local band historian. n.d.

[2]   John Hazel was one of the greatest professional solo cornetists of the American Stage during the 1880s.           He retired from professional life and returned to Williamsport in 1907. In 1910, he accepted the non-paying job of director of the Repasz Band, a position he held for more than 30 years.

[3]   Taken from an old photo; could have some errors.

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