Lt. Col. Louis Jaeger returned to his old stomping grounds this November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his college graduation, an honor earning him membership in the Grand Guard Society.
“I appreciate the recognition, I really do,” he said. “I think that’s the first emotion that I had. Appreciation.”
Jaeger, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, began playing in the Gator Marching Band during his first semester at UF.
“The joke I always used to tell was, ‘Why did I go to the band and not go play football?’” he said. “There were a lot more girls in the band than on the football team!”
He started playing clarinet in middle school, becoming what he called a serious member of the band and carrying a real instrument—something other than a recorder.
As part of the Gator Band, Jaeger played alto, bass and contrabass clarinet, as well as the occasional bass drum.
“We were so short of people in our drumline that I walked into the deputy director’s office and he called me out and said, ‘Lou, count to four,’ and so I counted to four,” Jaeger said. “One, two, three, four, and he said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the new bass drummer.’”
Jaeger said he later went on to become the catch-all guy. At one point, he was asked to find a flag corps, so he borrowed eight guide-on flag poles from ROTC, and stapled flags from the band room on them.
“I guess I’m clear to say one of the instruments I played was a stick with a flag on it,” he said.
During his time at UF, Jaeger became a member of Kappa Kappa Psi, a national honorary band fraternity, and saw the Gator Band go from about 90 people to over 200 by his graduation in December 1967.
“We needed to add people, so members of the band literally went out and started pulling people off the sidewalk,” he recalled. “Anybody we could find out there that had band experience, we went out and we marketed to them.”
In addition to the marching band, Jaeger was part of the U.S. Air Force ROTC program at UF. After graduation, this role led to his stationing in Rome, New York.
“It was 27 degrees below zero,” he said. “Three months later, I volunteered to go to Vietnam just to get out of those temperatures. And that’s a true story.”
He worked in research and development, building things like infrared sensors to put in reconnaissance airplanes. He eventually ended up in classified intelligence with the National Reconnaissance Office.
“You couldn’t even say the letters ‘NRO,’” he said. “But basically, we built the spy satellites.”
After two six-month tours, he got married and became a career serviceman for 27 years. He lived in southern California, which he called the hotbed of rocket and space systems development, and at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., before ending up in his current home of Springfield, Virginia.
Upon returning to Gainesville for the Grand Guard Society reunion, he said he ran into two retired lieutenant colonels, one of whom missed Jaeger by a year in Vietnam.
“[The reunion] was a chance to talk with people with similar experiences and to exchange what life was like for them,” he said.
He also had the opportunity to meet with other Gator Band alumni.
“It’s a very positive thing to have happen that a separate activity, integral to the school you’re going to, provides a better sense of what the university experience is,” he said.
He said he’s happy to see things with the band have stepped up since his time in it, but nonetheless, he said his college career was wholly enhanced by his band experience.
“You don’t have to be getting a minor in music to participate,” he said. “It just helps the university experience.”