Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. --
Last week “The President’s Own” welcomed back almost 80 former members of the Marine Band for a week of music and comradery. Alumni attendees checked in on Tuesday where they received nametags and toured the Marine Barracks Annex— a “new” facility to those who served in the band prior to 2005. The veterans—whose service spanned the last 66 years—had performed for every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Some of the former members served 20-30 years and retired from the Marine Corps, while others spent a short stint in the band but looked fondly upon their time in the organization.
During the Tuesday evening reception, current and former members spent time reminiscing and swapping stories; the conversations were lively and there were hugs and handshakes aplenty. A traditional cake cutting also honored retired principal trombonist Master Gunnery Sgt. James “Jim” Erdman, the oldest member present, who served under seven presidents after he joined the band in 1956.
Marine Band Chief Librarian and Historian Gunnery Sgt. Charles Paul enjoyed meeting so many former members who had previously been just names on a page. As Historian, Paul conducts research and preserves the band’s history.
“I loved putting faces with names and hearing stories of what life was like in the band long ago,” Paul said.
Those stories included the former members’ favorite memories from their time in the band. Cornetist Jim May remembered President Nixon hosting the Vietnam Prisoners of War on the South Lawn of the White House in 1973. Public Affairs Specialist Jim Arnold remembered working on Marine Band Bicentennial events in 1998. Many mentioned the band’s trip to the Soviet Union, events at the White House, inaugural ceremonies, and performing for legendary film composer John Williams. And former trumpet/cornetist Master Sgt. Michael Mergen, USMC (Ret.), said that the best part of his Marine Band career was performing the Armed Forces service songs on every tour concert.
On Wednesday the alumni rehearsed together, and while some of the musicians have continued on their instruments, others had to brush off the cobwebs in order to play with their former colleagues. When asked what she was most looking forward to, clarinetist Master Sgt. Tracey Paddock, USMC (Ret.), said, “seeing my friends and making music together.”
The group of friends relished their time together catching up and performing great music; following the band’s run through of Percy Grainger’s Colonial Song—and a particularly moving diminuendo—27th Director Col. Michael J. Colburn, USMC (Ret.), smiled and simply whispered “Wow.”
On Thursday evening, the alumni band sat in formation in John Philip Sousa Band Hall to perform a concert. The program began with retired Marine Band baritone Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ryan introducing Director Col. Jason K. Fettig. From the stage, Fettig said:
“We are so filled with joy to welcome back former members of this organization. We have so enjoyed this opportunity to get together, to meet old friends, to make new friends, and to celebrate the legacy and history of this incredible American institution.”
Supportive friends, family members, and many other former members and current members of “The President’s Own” sat in the audience alongside tourists and loyal patrons to cheer on the alumni. The 25th Marine Band Director Col. John R. Bourgeois, USMC (Ret.), and Col. Colburn conducted the band through favorites by John Williams, Percy Grainger, Robert Jager, and John Philip Sousa.
Watch the Concert
Read about the Program
Earlier that day, the Marine Chamber Orchestra performed a concert at the National Museum of the Marine Corps with former violinist Master Gunnery Sgt. Peter Wilson, USMC (Ret.), performing Sousa’s Nymphalin. Wilson had traveled from San Francisco to be a part of the alumni activities and said, “I’m still a fairly recent retiree, but it was exciting to have an excuse to come back; I loved it here!”
Wilson explained that since this was the first time “The President’s Own” has hosted an orchestra alumni performance, there were only two former orchestra members performing—Wilson on violin and Paul Simonelli on double bass—but Col. Fettig wanted to embark on the alumni orchestra tradition to encourage more string players to return in the future. Wilson sat in his old chair, principal second, while playing alongside current orchestra members.
“It’s been thrilling; and it’s been great to feel the love,” he said.
There was a lot of love to go around. Whether the attendees had served with “The President’s Own” for three decades or four years, many agree that their tenure with the band had an impact on shaping their lives. Clarinetist Master Sgt. Jihoon Chang, USMC (Ret.), loved the comradery and being around so many of his friends.
“For 26 years the Marine Band was my family,” he said. “I’m going to come back every time!”
Photos: Alumni Reception
Photos: Alumni Rehearsals
Photos: Alumni Concerts
Video: Alumni Band Concert