Monday, June 18, 2012

GHS - War Remembrance Tour

There are many traits that define a person and each has its drawbacks and its positives but for the vast majority said traits are learned at the same time.  During the formative years these traits can define the person then and in the future.  Certainly sloth, gluttony and lack of attention can be “achieved” as one matures but I would contend that trait of desire cannot be learned nor become an “acquired” trait. Within the confines of the human being that possesses such traits lies the genetics that make up that desire.

Desire is as simple of a trait that one can have.  To desire one must want for something and through that desire one must possess another trait:  Drive.  Without attempting to redefine perceived ideas about genetics, the human condition and how to cook a proper steak I will explain why I have mentioned two separate human traits.  As are the traits of desire and drive neither can be achieved without the other.  As such one can ask the proverbial “what came first” question and I have been bantering that about in my head for much longer than it took me to type this sentence.

I think its safe to assume that the two are synonymous with the other and I think the rationale behind one possessing said traits can be sharpened and further honed with a little prodding from another possessing similar traits.  As an example I can tell a tale which I learned of just recently.  Strike that, it is so recent that the paint still hasn’t dried on the tale.  Earlier in the year I was presented an opportunity to chaperone my daughter’s high school band trip.  I attended the same high school twenty six years ago and as my daughter had just finished her freshman year I thought it would be a fun trip to do with my daughter as the school does this type of trip every four years and I really have fewer chances to do so with every passing day.

This trip had all of the hallmarks of this trip being something epic (I’m serious about that so pay attention).  When it was presented that the trip would be going to Washington D.C. well the history geek came out of me like a demon out of Linda Blair.  I have never been to D.C. so I quickly jumped at the opportunity.  The Galena (Illinois) High School band was a shell of a band for years (before and during my high school career) and although the size of the band always seemed healthy, the skill really wasn’t there.  It wasn’t because of lack of talent nor was it because of lack of (teaching) leadership but rather a nasty conglomeration of events and reasons.  Several years ago that all disappeared when Mr. Steve Holland was hired by the Galena schools.

With this trip his students would be given a series of goals that would prove the respect of the band for Holland.  As I perused the final itinerary (for the dates of Jun 5 – 11) it was quite the eye opener as the trip began with a 23 hour (yes 23 HOURS) ride in two extremely comfortable motorcoaches with the first stop in Jamestown, Virginia followed by a visit to Williamsburg, Virginia (on what was the twenty-sixth anniversary of my own high school graduation).  Despite the great motorcoaches, I was unable to sleep that evening, except for a paltry hour and a half (maybe) and the bus was eerily silent.  I imagined how this calm could be the signal of a week of chaos and confusion and I prayed that this calm wouldn't be a serious case of foreshadowing.

                                         © James White - 2012

Its possible you know, fifty-seven high school students in a far away magical land (I say magical because the chance of getting anything done in our Nation's capitol is definitely some sort of trick).  The first day was wonderful and so were the kids but the next day had a chance to be a a doozy.  The itinerary for day 2 in included a performance on the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia and the rest of the day at Virginia Beach (I'm guessing right about now you understand why it could have been a "doozy".

The USS Wisconsin performance gave the GHS Band an opportunity to do something many will never get for themselves.  Imagine the opportunity to play on an ACTUAL battleship that has been in not only in action but is now part of a museum (maybe that is just the history geek coming out in me).  Regardless of the location (the fantail of the USS Wisconsin and the fact that they were one of a handful of bands that have ever played there), the band was actually the backdrop music for some type of USN ceremony that was being held in-front of the turret of those incredible 16 inch guns.

As the band began the performance people began to filter out from the museum and onto the Wisconsin and based on the responses from those new ears, they loved it.  In all honesty I was nervous for the band because I thought that they would be playing from this large ship, toward a metal sided museum and with all of the associated noise from being in Norfolk, I wondered if it would hurt the sound.  As usual I was incorrect because just like all of those other people I loved the performance.  The band performed through all of it and with such skill that I forgot about all of the environmental things plus the heat and humidity and just heard them.

                                 © James White - 2012

Following the performance, the GHS Band and the associated chaperons had a whirlwind tour of the museum.  The museum isn't just a museum of the USS Wisconsin and shouldn't be assumed so but it really should be a location that you should visit if you are ever given the chance.  Following the museum, the band departed for a day at Virginia Beach and honestly it was a well deserved stop.  Reflecting back to this visit I made a couple of interesting observations:  1. The kids (and all of the rest of us) were the best behaved that I could have ever imagined (great ambassadors for GHS, way to go!!!),  2. As beautiful as the day was, the beach was literally populated with tens of people (nothing but all us cold-blooded folk), 3. Virginia Beach is pretty cool, and 4. I can pick the absolutely crappiest places to eat every time.

                                         © James White - 2012

The adage "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" reminds me of how these kids have worked this entire year.  I have seen their performances from the beginning of the school year and please believe me when I tell you how great they were.  As a treat for the band we (hey I was there too so its "we") were given their next excursion (08 June 12) to a visit to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The weather and the kids were perfect but once again the observations I made about Virginia Beach were identical here (except for one, Busch Gardens is pretty cool) and as always I picked the worst place to eat.

I think I should preface the previous comment (the one about the food), yes the food I had there was "interesting" (and not good) but I think I had the best dinner entertainment in the entire park.  There was a musical number complete with a comedic stage show and it was incredible.  The musicians in the performance were incredible and it was a blast so I'll ignore the chicken parmesan.

Jack decided to go back to work and be a dull boy once again because the next day (09 June 12 to be exact) and the band visited Washington DC (and the history geek came out of me once again).  At this point I would like to thank whomever set this itinerary because this part of the visit became one of the most poignant experiences of my life.  Before the band was to perform again (more on that soon) we toured several Washington landmarks (the US Capitol, Union Station, the Kennedy Center, etc.) but the ones that stick out are the memorials to the men and women that served our country in military action.

Like so many Americans members of my family have served in the military and in some of the wars that our country has fought in.  Through the time that our country has been a country our men and women have been asked to sacrifice themselves for our freedoms.  Washington DC is the epicenter of any decision to send the men and women of our military to any location that is necessary so I think it is important that those same men and women be memorialized there.  On that extremely hot and humid day we visited several monuments that left me breathless and speechless and with that I have included the pictures below (without conjecture, humor or disrespect and unfortunately the World War II Memorial isn't represented).

Vietnam Women's Memorial
Photo © James White - 2012 
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Photo © James White - 2012

Korean War Veterans Memorial
Photo © James White - 2012
The Washington DC experience is one that I will not soon forget and not only for the memorials to our veterans.  I was moved by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.  What is interesting about the Lincoln Memorial is that this was the location of the final GHS performance.

I wasn't "just a chaperon" on this trip, I was a Dad and so for me to watch the GHS band (and my daughter) start setting up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (did I fail to mention that) was one of the proudest moments of my being.  Put this picture in your mind, fifty-seven members of the GHS band, all dressed in the same blue t-shirts, getting ready to perform patriotic music on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while tourists mill about and with a smattering of the 250,000 Girl Scouts of America that were in Washington DC that very day (did I forget to mention that too).  Two hundred and fifty THOUSAND Girl Scouts, yes I said that!  With the band facing the Lincoln Memorial the band started playing and a crowd began to gather.

It was interesting to see the faces of so many men, women and children from places hither and yon from little Galena, Illinois and one simple fact, they all seemed to enjoy the band.  I was asked repeatedly where we were from and I was told often how good they sounded.  All of that makes for one proud parent and chaperon.

As the night wandered on and our time in the DC area began to fade, it seemed that it began to sink in what an excellent opportunity they had been given.  Our trip would soon be over but only after three more stops the next day.  June 10th was another one of those days that was hovering in the sweltering category but with the final three visits (the USMC War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the Gettysburg National Military Park), the trip seemed to not want it all to end.  These final three locations were the culmination of a personal goal of mine (remember history geek) which included all of the memorials we had seen in the past and the ones we saw on this day.

USMC War Memorial
Photo © James White - 2012
Humbling is a word I can only use to describe what it felt like to watch the changing of the guard at Arlington, it goes beyond any attempts at further description.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Photo © James White - 2012
While being in Arlington and seeing all of the tombstones for the men and women that served I felt like I was indeed in shock.  Everyone of those men and women are truly heroes and I realized that those people we seem to canonize because of their celebrity or sports prowess really aren't anything that would or should resemble heroes.  May God bless the souls that fill that cemetery.

With our final stop being Gettysburg I thought that the visit would almost be like driving through some type of animal park.  I say that because I really hadn't a clue that the battlefield was that open and one could actually be standing in a spot that created so much history.  As I sat on Little Round Top, I looked down from its craggy face toward what would have been an assault by hundreds upon hundreds of Confederate troops and I realized what really happened.  I could feel the musket in my hand, I could smell the powder and envision the carnage.

Standing at the base of the Zouave soldier (from the 155th Pennsylvania) I looked out with my jaw agape and I slowly shook my head in disbelief.  Our guide described the battle and our imaginations filled in the rest.

View from Little Round Top
Photo © James White - 2012
Riding home in that comfortable motorcoach gave me ample time to think (I slept one hour) about the trip.  I soon realized that each of those kids not only saw all of that history, but they too added their names to history.  Each person on the trip had their own unique experiences that fit neatly into the trip which will become a point of reference in their own recollections of the trip.  No two of those on the trip will take the same things away from the trip with them despite the fact that they all visited the same places.  Walking away from that motorcoach at the Galena High School parking lot to bring a successful end to the trip I realized that we too (the chaperons) were part of something special.  We each walked away understanding that the future is in each of those young men and women.

I took away memories from the trip that I will never forget but one singular memory will be in the forefront of all of them.  I saw a band from a small Illinois town perform at the highest level, in front of countless people and they never skipped a beat.  I take pride in the fact that each and every one of those kids were disciplined, orderly and polite.  Each of these young people were standout ambassadors for their families and their school.  Thank you to Mr. Steve Holland for making such a great trip and thank you for the memories.  Good old Galena High School, great job!

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