It was a different time in 1974, when Master Gunnery Sgt. D. Michael Ressler joined the Marine Corps. President Richard Nixon was about to resign, Commandant Gen. Robert Cushman had recently overseen the Corps’ withdrawal from Vietnam, and Hank Aaron had just become baseball’s all-time home run king.
Thirty-nine years later, Ressler will leave the Corps this month with more time on active-duty than any other enlisted Marine. A member of the “President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band, he will be honored in a retirement ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington on Friday, and officially retire Aug. 31. He served under 11 Marine Corps commandants.
Ressler, 61, initially joined the Corps as a music librarian with the band, after finishing second in an audition with the euphonium, a brass horn. Just a few weeks later, however, another opening appeared for a euphophonist, and Ressler began performing with the band, he said. He was promoted to his current rank on Dec. 1, 1990, he said — meaning he served nearly 23 years as a senior enlisted Marine.
“After that first four years, I was just totally committed to the band and wanted to stay for a full career,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “By the time I reached that four-year mark, I considered myself a career member if they would have me that long.”
The Marine Corps is highlighting Ressler’s retirement this month, and it’s easy to see why. In interviews he comes across as grateful, professorial and singularly dedicated to the band and its history. He served under 10 commandants and
Ressler recalled several highlights when asked to reflect on his career. In 1976, for example, he said the band made a cross-country tour spanning 51 days to mark the country’s bicentennial celebration. In 1986, he played aboard the battleship Iowa and aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy as President Reagan marked the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty’s unveiling. The band’s music was choreographed with fireworks.
“It came across beautifully,” he recalled. “It took a lot of work, but the finished effect was just spell-binding, I guess I would call it.”
More recently, Ressler became the band’s chief librarian in 1988, and its historian in 2008. He has spent much of the last few years conducting interviews with current and former members of the “President’s Own” to develop an oral history.
Ressler said he and his wife, Susan, plan to retire to their hometown of New Holland, Pa. A community band there is active with youth, and he’d like to help.