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 The unit was formed in 1960 and according to SFC Martin was originally made up of non-musician infantrymen, harkening back to the field musicians of the Continental Army.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.
"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."
"We're just Moms who serve through the organization to make sure that our children's names and lives are not forgotten."
From our standpoint, it's a relatively small thing to do, and we're proud to be a part of the mission."
"With NFI managing the logistics, the sky is the limit. They will help make the entire operation more efficient,” said Debbie Sparks, Director Corporate Development and Community Relations, Wreaths Across America.
Luann started her volunteer efforts with Wreaths Across America in 2015 after hearing about it from a friend who was participating with her DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) group. She's working to sponsor wreaths to cover all of the known heroes laid to rest at Oaklawn.
"I always choose our drivers who are military veterans for these loads and they are proud and honored to have the opportunity to recognize our fallen heroes and their families."
In referencing the Wreaths Across America Stem to Stone Remembrance Tree program Roger spoke to the value and necessity of "planting seeds of patriotism" in younger generations.
Monica explains Maverick has a tremendous amount of pride hauling America's respect and not only do they assign the wreath loads to their drivers who are veterans but those drivers are some of the industry's best.
The September edition of the Military Musicians Showcase goes out to jazz lovers!
As Aaron Van Beek, Location Coordinator for Sioux Center, Iowa placed Chris Kyle's tag in Maine the announcement was made that the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and Wreaths Across America have agreed to collaborate with the support of their respective programs.
Helen told us about her brother, Ralph H. Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously following his heroic actions in Vietnam in 1968.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
Brandon says last year spending time at Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day with fellow employees of Cowan Systems, Inc. was an educational and humbling experience.
"It's been a dream of mine to go back to Arlington with my Mom to be a part of National Wreaths Across America Day to place remembrance wreaths on my grandparents' graves."
According to Gretchen CFI went above and beyond two years ago when they helped make her dream come true.
"When we did that project we had one hundred and thirty-five of our employees at that time who had served in the military and that's a big percentage of employees for one company. We think that it's important to recognize their service."
Christa Parker's love for her son, country, and volunteerism with Wreaths Across America knows no boundaries, quite literally. Her volunteer efforts frequently have her crossing states lines and her stamina and organizational efforts are an inspiration to all.
When asked if he could describe the power of the veterans' remembrance wreath he admitted it was a challenge to put into words, yet hesitated only for a moment.
One highlight from this year's performance came when Six-String Soldiers invited children of all ages to the stage to sing along with them, the Rick Charrette song, I'm An American! It echoed through the valley where replica dog tags of fallen heroes hang among the balsam fir trees' tips that will be used to make veterans remembrance wreaths.
"Rain, snow, or sunshine as you know these guys walk the walk, so we're here to dedicate this section of the tip land to the Old Guard," proclaims Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America. "We certainly appreciate everything they do for us."
It was, in fact, a competitor of Abilene Motor Express who reached out to them to tell them about Wreaths Across America and Will says once the owners, Keith and Kolen Jones heard about the effort they were one hundred percent behind it right away.
Especially meaningful is the location of the Grove, which is adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Medal of Honor Remembrance Park. From this vantage point, The Old Guard will continue to stand watch over America’s fallen heroes.
Kevin says driving Armellini's load of wreaths in the escort to VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth along with the Walmart trucks is a meaningful experience for him emotionally because of honoring veterans, but he says there's also a more physical kind of excitement as a professional driver.
Starting at the end of this month, as we countdown to Wreath Day, we would like to invite you to appear on our national webcast/webinar series to tell us about the local veterans buried in your community. We will also run your interview on WAA Radio and share on social media and in the newsletter.
"If we don't teach this younger generation that freedom is not free they're going to forget and not understand the sacrifice made by these men and women who keep us free and safe. I don't know where this country would be if not for the brave people who step up and volunteer to serve in our military. It's really scary to think of where we'd be without a powerful military."
Thinking about Christmas during July provides us with the perfect opportunity to encourage others to get involved with our mission by sharing the stories of their hometown heroes while explaining, however, to those not familiar we're not "decorating graves."