An All-American Delegation to Normandy

SBO Staff • August 2023Commentary • August 20, 2023

For many, June 6, 1944, may be recognized as one of the most significant dates in history when thousands of young Americans stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from Hitler’s grasp. Nearly 80 years later, many Americans remain at rest in France, memorialized in seemingly endless rows of white crosses and stars of David. Engraved with their names, this is a permanent reminder of the cost of freedom. Because they cannot come home, we remain committed to going to them. 

Historic Programs endeavors to provide the world’s most meaningful events, inspiring tomorrow’s leaders to learn lessons of the past. This is accomplished by taking outstanding performing ensembles to places where history was made to honor and learn from our history makers. 

The All-American D-Day Band was commissioned to provide a select ensemble acting as a music ambassador to the D-Day Commemoration. The band members emulate those we honor by personifying the spirit of American youth, the very best our nation has to offer. Our alliance with the National Band Association and support of industry leaders helped to make this dream reality. The commitment to excellence demonstrated by outstanding partner organizations was evident in their willingness to provide the very best products available to each musician. Demoulin Brothers Uniforms, KHS America’s Jupiter Band Instruments, Mapex and Majestic percussion equipment, and Salyers Percussion drumsticks, mallets, and custom stick bags delivered every step of the way. 

Under the direction of Colonel (retired) Timothy Holtan, former leader and commander of The United States Army Band, a staff of professional music educators organized and rehearsed the All-American D-Day Band members in Washington, DC, prior to their trip to France. Musicians from The United States Army Field Band served as mentors in clinics and sectionals. The All-Americans’ efforts were on display in a performance at the WWII Memorial.

Arriving in Paris, the musicians enjoyed some sightseeing, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Tour Montparnasse where they had a breathtaking view of the City of Lights. 

The next morning, June 3rd they journeyed to the Normandy village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first town liberated by American paratroopers. The band entertained an international crowd as part of the Concert de Libération in the town square followed by marching in the official D-Day Memorial Parade.  

June 4th was a day of exploration and sightseeing. The students visited Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach, the site of one of D-Day’s fiercest battles. Several musicians had family members who participated in D-Day; this stop gave them a special connection to their ancestors.

On June 5th the All-American Band performed in the Memorial Ceremony at the Brittany American Cemetery. They were joined by the Dutchtown High School Band, the Anchorage Honor Platoon JROTC Cadets, the Amityville American Legion Highland Pipes and Drums and the Choral Arts Society of Frederick Maryland. The All-American Band performed music dedicated to our American veterans and Allied Forces. One of the All-Americans, Hannah-Marie Tokiwa from Pearl City High School in Hawaii, spoke during the ceremony and expressed her feelings about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. This ceremony included a wreath laying and remarks from the mayor of St. James. Afterward, the students were treated to a visit to the awe-inspiring medieval village of Mont Saint-Michel.

On June 6th, the anniversary of D-Day, the All-American Band joined other ensembles to perform in the D-Day Memorial Ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery. Percussionist Pierce Ruch, from Ashville High School in North Carolina, had the honor of speaking on behalf of the All-American Band. In his remarks, Pierce shared that his great grandfather landed on Omaha Beach, June 6th, 1944.  Following, the students met several VIP’s and two WWII Veterans, Mr. Charles Shay and Mr. John Wolfe, both of whom participated in the D-Day Landings. One student was overheard saying, “this was the most incredible experience of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this day.”

Their tour concluded in Paris, highlighted by an encore performance in the Jardin d’Acclimatation along with the Dutchtown High School Band and a farewell dinner in Montmartre in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacre’ Coeur. This was truly the experience of a lifetime for the musicians. Their performances for those who served our nation will remain in the hearts and minds of all those who were united to commemorate this historic campaign. Perspectives were changed, lives were inspired and the charge to “Always Remember” will be appreciated more than ever.

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