Jan. 22, 2015 --
In a special tribute to the veterans who served so valiantly in the Great War, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band will perform a concert titled “Time Capsule 1945: the 70th Anniversary of the End of World War II.” The free concert will take place at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 23, at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md.
The year was 1945 and war still raged despite the Allies’ success at the Battle of the Bulge in Europe. On the home front, the war effort gripped the nation. The Marine Corps was still looking for a few good men, the production of new cars and housing remained at a standstill, blue star flags hung in windows, government rationing continued, and Rosie the Riveter recruited women to join the workforce.
On the European and Pacific battlefronts, Americans courageously fought against a ferocious enemy. Countless new joins were boys straight off the farm, never dreaming they would see the ocean, much less amphibious warfare assaults. Adventurous city slickers found themselves on the high seas skirting mines and U-boats, and in the skies flying fighter aircraft and heavy bombers in raids against the Luftwaffe. American service members quickly became seasoned veterans against the persistent fighting spirit of the Imperial Japanese Army. They stormed beaches, sailed hostile waters, and witnessed the horrors of war.
Back in the nation’s capital, the Marine Band provided music for war bond rallies and patriotic dinners and dances to boost morale among the American people. At the White House, the band supported an unprecedented fourth inaugural for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and that support continued for his successor Harry Truman.
On Feb. 23, the band performed a broadcast of the “Patriotic Dream Hour for Shut-ins” over the National Broadcasting Company airwaves at Marine Barracks Washington. That same day, on the other side of the world, brave young men had already charged the enemy through fierce and bloody combat on the black sand of Iwo Jima. Thousands were killed by artillery shells and machine gun fire from the Japanese Army’s fortified and concealed positions. Yet only days into the battle, five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised an American flag on the highest point of the volcanic island, Mount Suribachi.
Three months later, the day after the Allies formally accepted Nazi Germany’s surrender—Victory in Europe Day—that very flag was raised over the U.S. Capitol while “The President’s Own” played “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“We feel a great debt of gratitude to those service members who came before us, especially all who fought in World War II,” said Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig. “We often speak about this generation and the tremendous sacrifices that were made in the great world war, and we should take every opportunity to honor them and show them how much they continue to be appreciated.”
While it was a difficult time for the country, it was also an era that helped shape America’s national culture and artistic identity. Music played an important role in World War II as the troops listened to Armed Forces Radio and enjoyed USO tour performances. The sounds of swing, boogie-woogie, and even nationalist classical works funded by the government were heard on live radio and on records, serving as a comfort and diversion from the hardships of the war.
Throughout “Time Capsule: 1945,” the Marine Band will recreate some of those sounds with music from and about the period such as Marine Band Staff Arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer’s arrangement of Selections from South Pacific by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II featuring vocalists Gunnery Sgt. Sara Dell’Omo and Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear. In addition, the program includes two pieces by American composer Aaron Copland, who lived through World War II and was known as the “Dean of American Music.”
Copland wrote his Finale from Symphony No. 3 largely during the years of the war and completed it following the war’s tragedies and triumphs. The composer himself said the work was “intended to reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time.” Based on his iconic “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which he composed in 1942 as part of a series of wartime fanfares, the symphony is arguably the centerpiece of his contribution to American music.
As a nod to the 150th anniversary of the end of another major American conflict, the program will also feature Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, narrated by Jim Lehrer, former anchor of PBS’ NewsHour. In Lincoln Portrait, Copland drew parallels between the turmoil of the Civil War and World War II and perseverance of a nation. He began working on the piece shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as part of a commissioning project representing a musical portrait gallery of great Americans.
“Mr. Lehrer came from a family of Marines and served in the 1950s as a Marine Corps infantry officer,” said Lt. Col Fettig. “He would, of course, go on to become a world class journalist, and he has often spoken about the life changing experiences he had in the service. He continues to be an ardent supporter of the Marine Corps, and we are incredibly honored to welcome him back to collaborate with the band.”
Another highlight of the program is the world première of the band version of Adam Schoenberg’s American Symphony, transcribed by Marine Band Music Production Chief and Staff arranger Master Sgt. Donald Patterson. According to the composer, he set out to write a modern American symphony, inspired by Copland’s Symphony No. 3, that “paid homage to our past and looked forward to a brighter future. … It is about our collective ability to restore hope within ourselves and our neighbors, both here and around the world.”
Lehrer will read letters and personal stories of servicemen who served in World War II. Letters to and from home served as a lifeline to those fighting the Axis powers. Whether a few short sentences of reassurance from a mother or words of longing from a sweetheart, they served as a comfort in faraway lands marred by destruction. When birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays passed them by, those in the fight held close the words that offered a glimmer of hope while they were surrounded by chaos and death.
One such letter was written by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John E. Lee to his “Most Precious Ones”—his wife and daughter—from “Somewhere in the Western Pacific:”
“Most Precious Ones -They loaded us up into a Marine truck and started out. We rode and rode. We passed through the different camps and then up a road we passed some tanks and then I see a lot of Marines in foxholes. Well, I thought, ‘If those Marines are in foxholes, what the hell are we doing riding around in this truck like a bunch of Sunday drivers up Wilshire Boulevard?’ … So I hollered at the driver if he knew where he was going and he said he was lost. Boy did we ever get out of that place. We found out later that we’d been about a mile inside [enemy] lines, and to this day I don’t know why we weren’t all killed. … This is the hellhole of creation.”
Lee didn’t consider himself a hero, just an ordinary guy. In fact, many World War II veterans have said the real heroes are the ones who paid the ultimate price for freedom and victory and never came home.
Former long-time NBC news anchor and recent presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Tom Brokaw wrote reverently of the veterans of the 1940s in his book “The Greatest Generation,” noting that he “began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness. … I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
The World War II generation showed an indomitable resolve and enduring spirit during one of the nation’s most difficult eras. So as we continue to celebrate the monumental accomplishments of the men and women of the Greatest Generation, the members of “The President’s Own” celebrate the legacy of that hard fought victory in 1945 and honor those who carried the nation on their shoulders during this iconic year in American history.
The concert is free; but tickets are required. For free tickets, visit The Music Center at Strathmore’s ticket office or visit www.strathmore.org. Tickets are valid until 7:15 p.m., at which time all tickets become null and void and any remaining seats will be filled with patrons in the stand-by queue, which begins at 6:45 p.m., outside the Music Center. The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane in North Bethesda, Md. For detailed directions and parking information visit www.strathmore.org