29th ID Band plays integral role in D-Day anniversary events

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band perform ceremonial music at the observation of the 75th anniversary of D-Day June 6, 2019, at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. (U.S. National Guard photo by Cotton Puryear)

BEDFORD, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band performed ceremonial music, playing an integral part of ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day June 6, 2019, at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The band also performed at other anniversary events throughout the week as the Bedford community remembered the Soldiers who participated in and those who were lost during the invasion of the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

The 29th ID band performs at all types of ceremonies and events throughout the year, but the D-Day anniversary events have special meaning, according to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Donald Carlson, the band’s commander.

“We honor all military on all of our missions, however this mission is particularly important to me because we had band members who were a part of the invasion,” explained Carlson. “The 29th Infantry Division Band went ashore D-Day plus three. The 80 soldiers of that band served as litter bearers and assisted in mortuary affairs for a few days and then moved out as two 40-member bands to entertain the combat troops.”

During the main ceremony at the memorial, the band played ceremonial music throughout, to include playing honors for Vice President Mike Pence, who provided the keynote address.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band perform ceremonial music at the observation of the 75th anniversary of D-Day June 6, 2019, at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

“Each mission that the band plays for is different,” said Sgt. Danielle Feinstein, who plays flute. “Playing for the 75th anniversary of D-Day was amazing. Not only did we play to honor those veterans who served, but we also played for the vice president of the United States and that was quite an honor.”

The band also supplied the color guard and fife and drum performances during the ceremony, which brought the band a little closer to the audience and more than 100 World War II veterans they were there to honor.

“It is always such an honor to use our skills to celebrate those who have fought to preserve our ability to perform,” said Staff Sgt. Charla Owens, flute and fife player. “As part of the fife and drum, we were able to mingle and talk with some of the attendees. It was amazing to hear their stories and learn of their experiences.”

One of the more memorable moments of the performance was at the conclusion, when Sgt. Brian Campbell performed a solo version of Taps while aircraft performed a “missing man” formation during a flyover. Campbell did not take the opportunity lightly.

“One of the biggest challenges of playing Taps is showing the confidence behind each note that all these veterans put forth so many years ago,” said Campbell. “After being in the National Guard now for 15 years, this was the biggest and most meaningful event that I’ve had the honor of playing in the entirety of my service. Giving back to all of the veterans that were there on D-Day, past and present, is a true honor.”

Campbell’s bandmates thought he performed brilliantly.

“I was nervous for him, and speaking with him later, he was beyond nervous. Taps is one of the few songs that a military musician absolutely must play perfectly,” said Spc. Joshua Cole, who plays tuba. “Add that to the magnitude of the event. The vice president was there, but even more so, World War II veterans were there. Men that physically stormed that beach 75 years ago were present during the event.

“As Taps is being played, those veterans will be thinking about the brothers they lost during combat,” continued Cole. “With that in mind, anyone can conclude that this event is by far the most critical playing of Taps that any Army trumpeter must perform, and Sgt. Campbell nailed it. Credit to his personal ability, as well as the training the Army provides. I am proud to call such an incredible and inspirational Soldier and person my colleague and friend.”

The band played at other events in and around Bedford and across the state commemorating the anniversary week, including a concert in Marion, Virginia, and a performance at Bernard Marie’s annual dinner to honor D-Day veterans in Bedford. The band was also scheduled to perform at a concert and a parade at the Memorial in the days following the anniversary, but both events were cancelled due to inclement weather. The band concluded their anniversary performances by playing at an authentic World War II-era field chapel service at the memorial June 9.

Everyone in the band seemed to agree that performing for the heroes of D-Day was the highlight of the week and an incredible honor.

“To be able to be a part of history and to honor the men and women that sacrificed their lives to defend our country was absolutely amazing to be a part of,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Bradshaw, trombone player and group leader.

“To me, participating in the events of the 75th anniversary of D-Day hits very close to home,” said Sgt. Kevin Pace. “My grandfather was in the 29th Division during World War II, so to be able to have the opportunity to show my respect to him and the many others is a great honor and a very humbling experience.”

“One of the veterans wore his dress uniform from the World War II era. It filled me with such an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pride to see where the Corps of Noncommissioned Officers came from and what we have accomplished in our nation’s history,” said horn player Staff Sgt. Lauren Casey. “He smiled and waved. HE thanked ME. I was moved beyond tears and beyond anything I had ever experienced before.”

Carlson echoed his Soldiers’ sentiments.

“My favorite part of the experience is performing music for different parts of ceremony and seeing and hearing my Soldiers perform the mission expertly which often moves the audience, participants and sometime even us Soldier-musicians to tears,” said Carlson. He also emphasized the other part of the band’s mission, again referencing the band’s participation in World War II and D-Day 75 years ago.

“We have Army Bands to bring a piece of home to our troops by entertaining them with music with which they are familiar,” said Carlson. “However, we maintain our combat skills so that we can get to our troops and not rely on a security detail to get us to the mission and back safely. This mission reminds band members of our direct lineage and the reason we maintain both musical and war-fighting skills.”

The 29th Infantry Division Band contains seven musical performance teams. These include the concert band, marching band, ceremonial band (The Normandy Winds), rock band (Easy Green), brass ensemble (Normandy Brass), clarinet ensemble, and the fife and drum ensemble. Additionally the band has a color guard and a sound reinforcement team.

According to Carlson, the Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division Band perform an average of 45 missions per year, half of which are community support events. Unlike the other half of their missions, these are performed for civilian audiences, many of whom have limited knowledge about the Virginia National Guard. At the end of every concert, attendees are encouraged to talk with Soldiers to learn more about their mission, the Virginia National Guard and the military in general.