The recent landing of a spacecraft on Mars brings our attention again to the exploration of space. The famous, or in some circles infamous, polyester vest of the LHAB can claim a link to space exploration.

First how did this little vest become a part of the LHAB uniform anyway? In the first years of the LHAB in the 60’s, the uniform was a white shirt, black (not gray but black) pants, black shoes and socks and an orange neckerchief. Just for clarification, a neckerchief is more like the neckwear worn by the United States Navy, not like the larger, modern bandana. Problem was that the orange addition was not very visible in the stands when the LHAB took the field at Memorial Stadium. Alternatives needed to be considered. According to JP Kirksey who was LHAB President in 1972, the idea of the orange vest to be worn over the white shirt was the best and most cost-effective solution. JP’s mother and sister living in San Angelo made the first prototype which was presented to the LHAB membership and approved. The patterns were drawn by JP’s family in various sizes and the orange fabric was obtained from a mill in the Carolinas. A fundraiser supplied the funds to purchase 300 yards of fabric to make 300 vests. After waiting for 2 months, the fabric had not been received in Austin. Shipment tracking found it in a rail car in Arizona where it had been misrouted. Members of the LHAB then met in the band hall with sewing machines in hand and the vests were made in an assembly line that would make Henry Ford proud. By 1988 the number of vests was stretched to the limit, so new orange fabric was purchased to make new vests. Once again, members of the LHAB met, this time at Sycamore Camp Craft, a nursery school owned by Hal Klein’s mother. The long, narrow tables used by children were perfect for cutting the fabric for each new vest. A professional firm was hired to do the sewing. These are the vests we are using today. The original vests were sent to Area Reps for area playing events and are still in use there today.  

STS-38 was a NASA mission on the Space Shuttle Atlantis which carried a five-person crew, a classified payload for the U.S. Department of Defense, and a LHAB vest. You heard right! NASA Mission Specialist Carl J. Meade, Longhorn Band Clarinet 1968-1971, took his LHAB vest into orbit with him on STS-38 in 1990. STS-38 and our famous burnt orange vest launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 15, and travelled 2,045,056 miles during the 5-day mission. United States Air Force Colonel Carl Meade graduated in 1968 from Randolph High School on Randolph Air Force Base. In 1973 he received a Bachelor of Science degree (with honors) in Electronics Engineering from The University of Texas, and in 1975 completed a Master of Science degree in Electronics Engineering from California Institute of Technology. So, now that you know, remember that your LHAB vest is “out of this world” every time you put it on!

Written by Barbara Helbert, LHAB Archives Committee Chair and LHB Percussion 1965-1969, with input from JP Kirksey (LHB Percussion 1962-1965) and Jeanne Yturri (LHB Percussion 1977-1980).

Featured Image: “sts064-45-028” by NASA Johnson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.