Imagine you are on the battlefield during the Revolutionary War and think about the noise; cannons, rifle and pistol fire, screaming soldiers engaged in combat with swords and bayonets, and the thundering hooves of the Cavalry. The only things that could cut through that cacophony distinctly were a fife, drum, and trumpet (bugles gained prominence shortly after the turn of
the 19th century, and remain the primary signal brass today) and those instruments were used to call out instructions and commands.
"Field music at that time is not what we think of military bands today," explains SFC Jay Martin, bugler, and trumpeter with United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. "Field music was comprised of the fife, drums, and trumpeters for mounted cavalry units. Our role as musicians was for communication purposes on the battlefield. There were command calls for everything from turning left to lights out, and the troops had to know them."
SFC Martin explains the instruments were specific to units.
"The soldiers knew if they heard a trumpet it was a cavalry thing. If they heard a fife, it was an infantry thing, and they had to identify the different calls."
Battlefield musicians were in fact armed but with smaller weapons and based on what was available. While it was not considered "good form", they were often targeted and were wounded, killed, or taken as a prisoner.
From the white wigs to the tailored red coats every aspect of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is designed with history and field music in mind. The unit was formed in 1960 and according to SFC Martin was originally made up of non-musician infantrymen, harkening back to the field musicians of the Continental Army.
"The Old Guard has been the ceremonial standard bearer for the U.S. Army for decades, and they wanted to add another element to represent even more of our Army's early heritage."
Today, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is a performance group comprised of seventy men and women with diverse musical backgrounds.
"A lot of folks in the unit, such as myself, come from the conservatory, school of music approach and training while some come specifically from a fife and drum heritage. There's a whole sub-culture of fife and drum music in the United States that took off after the Civil War," explains SFC Martin. "They may have gone to school for chemistry, history or something like that, but, they grew up as a musician learning in an almost folk tradition way, from someone in their family lineage."
In addition to their performance responsibilities, each member has a secondary task assignment directly related to the unit's operation. The whole unit can be split up into smaller groups for different jobs.
"It may sound cliche, but, our typical day, isn't," chuckles SFC Martin. "We're always adapting. We start our day with physical fitness, then rehearsals begin in one form or another, and we're also training new soldiers coming into the fold. We may send a couple of fifers and a drum out for a small ceremony or colors mission at the local convention center and at the same time, we may have twenty-six soldiers standing out for a ceremony at Ft. Myer. Later that evening we could have another full group performance."
Right now, much their logistics have been tied up in preparing for their upcoming Basel Tattoo presentation in Switzerland.
Wreaths Across America believes military musicians are among the finest players and vocalists in the world representing every musical genre and SFC Martin confirms they are exemplary ambassadors for the service branch they represent instilling patriotism, pride, and respect using music; the one language all people understand without uttering a word.
"As military musicians on the home front, we get to go out and meet with people who may have never met anyone in the military, and we're that bridge. Our historical and educational performances give a human face to the uniform in our interactions. We serve a great role in recruiting and exemplify the diversity of job opportunities available in the military."
By design, the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps does travel overseas for performances but does not deploy with their units as typical Army bands do.
You can hear more from our interview about the history of the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps with SFC Jay Martin along with their music on Wreaths Across America's "Military Musicians Showcase" on Saturday's and Sunday's from 10:00 AM until Noon Eastern on Wreaths Across America Radio.
Guided by an infrangible faith when the supply of lifejackets ran out they gave up their own to save the lives of others.
"I went up to that hill and looked at all of those graves of my colleagues who have gone before me.
Volunteers planning to assist in removing wreaths are asked to attend a short briefing at the McClellan Gate at 8:30 a.m. and to follow these guidelines.
As witnessed through this video, the volunteer commitment of patriotic citizens is a year-round effort that culminates in a remarkable day of unity, friendship, and healing.
Some give the ultimate sacrifice of a loved one and are often left in sorrow to wonder if other citizens remember or appreciate what they gave up for liberty and justice for all.
Wreaths Across America knows some of the finest musicians out there are members of our military performance groups. Each month, we like to feature the musical works of those talented individuals.
Each live, balsam remembrance wreath is a gift of respect and appreciation, donated by a private citizen or organization and placed on the graves by volunteers as a small gesture of gratitude for the freedoms Americans enjoy.
In just a few days, Paulette and her fellow Troop Greeters will welcome veterans, Gold Star families, and other traveling dignitaries who are part of the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery.
Grand Marshals – Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Roger Donlon, U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired) and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife – will lead the caravan as it travels down the East Coast stopping at schools, memorials, and other locations along the way.
Driver Pat Wortham is an independent contractor for Dart Transit and a member of the Wreaths Across America honor fleet. He also has a rich history of military service in his family.
The holidays are traditionally celebrated with music so tune into WAA Radio throughout the holidays to hear musical Season's Greetings from some of the finest musicians in America!
"I was only 21 at the time, and we didn't know what we had come upon. The conditions were horrible, and there were all those people in striped pajamas."
"This contribution, like the one we made last year, will help provide an opportunity for professional drivers to transport wreaths across the United States.
Rhonda says she's experienced the "power of the wreath" watching people react to her daughter's presentations.
The telegram from the Department of War said that Albert and two other men had been shot down near Wollseifen, Germany, on Dec. 12, and that they had been missing since.
Yes! There's still time to sponsor a veterans' remembrance wreath in time for National Wreaths Across America Day.
"We were replacements," explained Charles. "My best friend Luke Moore and I went over together. He was a First scout, and I was a Second scout. We were taking a town when we were shot at by a sniper..."
Wreaths Across America is forever grateful for the thousands of volunteers who place veterans' remembrance wreaths on the headstones of our fallen as they say their names aloud every December. Remember, we are guests on the hallowed grounds of participating cemeteries and we ask that you honor their rules and regulations. If you're volunteering at Arlington this year, here's what you need to know.
Wreaths Across America announces open loads available as the Honor Fleet expands to transport America's Respect.
"I remember back then when we were told several times Vincent wouldn't make it through the night and I went to the chapel and said, 'God is there anything I can do to change your mind? He's our only son."
"One thing I will never forget is getting into Arlington and it was a cold, rainy day with freezing rain, and I remember looking around at all the empty headstones thinking to myself oh my God how are we going to do this."
"As part of our Wreaths Across America project, we work with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Explorers, Young Marines, and sometimes 4H members," Mike explains. "We try to engage our groups the way that I think the founder of Wreaths Across America intended."
The Civil Air Patrol Cadets meant the world to Rick. For three years he accompanied cadets to Arlington National Cemetery and assisted with laying wreaths at the cemetery. This trip changed the lives of many cadets.
"It was so moving coming down I95 because people were waving flags, honking their horns, giving us thumbs up, and saluting us."
"We have a dedicated group of compassionate people who come together to help military veterans," Rebecca explains. "If someone reaches out to us and says 'hey we need help getting a veteran's roof shingled' then we try to get it done."
“Every year we have so many professional drivers, bikers, police officers and other first responders, ask us how they can get involved, even if they can’t transport wreaths,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America.
"There are a lot of similarities between the military and the trucking industry," Rob explains. "I think that's why you see a lot of veterans successful as truck drivers."
Johnny Vet: Freedom Isn’t Free is a dynamic and inspirational musical journey of the men and women who have fought the nation’s wars and how those same men and women, as veterans, have helped to shape the nation and its destiny.
"History can be studied in many ways, and it's important to do so for a contextual understanding of the journey taken by an individual, organization, or nation."
"It's heart-wrenching to see that and participate in that, Rick shares. "To see all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles waiting there to have a wreath to place on their family member's headstone, there are just no words for it, none."