Somberness hung heavily in the air as a soft silence surrounded the well-kept cemetery grounds. Only sunshine was able to pierce through the melancholy yet prideful feeling one got while admiring the beautiful landscaping and the strikingly dark water, lapping the sands of Omaha beach.
Seemingly endless rows of white marble crosses marked the gravesites of almost 10,000 American soldiers who gave their lives in order to liberate France from Nazi rule and finally end WWII. Two by two, the Marching 110 strolled along the brick path, passing perfectly trimmed hedges and sweetly scented blossoms on their way to the monument steps.
A crowd of friends, family members and strangers alike met the band as they lined up for their performance. The first notes of The Star Spangled Banner resonated across the reflection pond all the way to the chapel in the distance, cutting through the soft silence with rich and robust sound.
More people gathered in front of the Marching 110 as they played through the rest of their set list. After acknowledging the beautiful but dismal atmosphere with Salvation is Created, the band lightened the mood with two upbeat marches—Summon the Heroes and Fanfare for the Common Man—before descending into solemnity once again with Battle Hymn Chorale. Eternal Father Strong to Save, the official Navy hymn featuring the mellophone section and the band’s singing skills, came next, followed by America the Beautiful. To finish off their patriotic set list, the Marching 110 bounded through The Stars and Stripes Forever for their grand finale.
The spectators’ view of the 196 band members perching on the steps of the monument was incredible, but the band’s view of the audience enjoying their music in front of the expansive cemetery grounds was an even better sight, especially on a day as bright and beautiful as this one.
As the final chord of Stars and Stripes echoed out to sea, the 110 lowered their instruments while smiles and applause radiated from the audience. On my way back to the buses to change out of my uniform, a French woman stopped me and asked if I would pose for a photograph with her two children. I could see amazement and awe in their young eyes, as if the Marching 110 had inspired them in that 15-minute performance to pick up instruments themselves.
Before making the two-hour bus trip back to Paris from Normandy, band members had the chance to explore the pristine cemetery grounds and learn more about the rich history behind the events of D-Day on June 6, 1944 at an indoor museum featuring the weapons, first aid kits and uniform parts of American soldiers.
Re-visit our blog tomorrow for an update about our performance in front of The Eiffel Tower and our tour of The Louvre!
Written by Amanda Weisbrod
**The author of this blog is also a member of the Marching 110.