NCB Switzerland/France Tour - May 24 - Normandy

Leaving the area of Tours on the morning of Thursday, May 24, many members of the National Capital Band were in great anticipation of the day's activities. Since the itinerary for the tour had been announced, the visit to the Normandy area, including a concert and ceremonies at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, had been recognized as one of the high points of the journey.

The band arrived first at the small village of Arromanche, located on Sword Beach, which was one of the British landing beaches during the D-Day invasion. The band members were given some time to explore the town and eat our midday meal. This beach was the site of one of the “mulberry” artificial harbors which were towed across the English Channel during the D-Day operation, and parts of the structure are still in the water and on the beach itself. There are also some still-existing portions of the German defenses on the bluff which overlooks both the town and the beach, showing how there were tunnels dug between the emplacements so that personnel could move on the top of the bluff without being seen. Following lunch, the band changed into their uniforms and boarded the bus for the 20-minute trip along the coast to Omaha Beach, at the opposite end of the string of five landing beaches.

Upon arriving at the American Cemetery, the band discovered that Rodney Gravett, who had attended our concert the evening at Fontrevraud the evening before, and who lives in the Normandy area, had graciously arranged for chairs for the band, which were already in place in front of the memorial at the cemetery. The day was warm with bright sunshine, and Bandmaster Anderson decided to forgo festival tunics for the outdoor concert. Given the sensitivity of the surroundings, the items chosen where hymn tunes and devotional selections, and American patriotic items. These included Fanfare Prelude on “Lobe den Herren” (James Curnow), Take Time ... (Kenneth Downie), The Blessing (William Himes), America the Beautiful (Carmen Dragon, arr. Bob Clemons), What a Friend (Erik Leidz&ecute;n), I Know Thou Art Mine (Leonard Ballantine), Share My Yoke (Joy Webb, arr. Ivor Bosanko), Armed Forces Salute (Stephen Bulla), and Land of Freedom (Stephen Bulla). During the concert, a group of about 80 American tourists arrived to lay a wreath at the memorial. When they discovered that a concert was ongoing, they asked the band to participate in their ceremony by playing God Bless America and The Star-Spangled Banner, which Bandmaster Anderson readily agreed to do.

The band ended the concert just before 4:30 pm. At that time every day the two flags in the center of the cemetery are lowered with some ceremony. On this occasion, the band played a special arrangement of the bugle call “Retreat” (provided by Stephen Bulla) as the first flag was lowered. For the second flag, Chris Dennard, who is member of the the US Army “Old Guard” Drum & Bugle Corps, provided the call. Although the flags are lowered at this time, the cemetery grounds are still open until 6:00 pm, so after a quick equipment load the band had some time to walk through the historic site. The band then returned to the hotel, where, because there was no evening concert planned, they had a dinner together in lieu of the regularly scheduled end of season dinner.

Brass Crest Staff Report