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Student Musicians March with Troops to Honor, Learn

By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2006 – Among the many veterans, active military units and war re-enactors marching down Constitution Avenue today were hundreds of high school students in heavy wool uniforms.

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Members of Lake Orion High School Marching Band march and sweat down Constitution Avenue in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., May 29. Chaperones work their way through the group offering them water bottles. The parade honored the men and women of America's armed forces who have given their lives for the nation's freedom. Photo by Paul X. Rutz

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"It's an honor to march in Washington, D.C., for a national parade," Becky Hendriksen, a piccolo player with Lake Orion High School Marching Band, of Lake Orion, Mich., said as the temperature crept toward 90 degrees. "It's kind of hot though."

High school bands came on buses from across the country this weekend to play in the National Memorial Day Parade, pay tribute to America's fallen, and learn some history lessons from the monuments, museums and living heroes here.

Michael Steele, head band director with Lake Orion's band, said his group spent two days seeing the area's sites. Last night the band laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in nearby Arlington, Va. The director said he hopes the event "puts this into more of a historical and cultural perspective for these kids, what they are doing, what they're taking part in."

After receiving an invitation and gaining school approval, Steele said his band raised about $120,000 for the trip. "We sold anything that we possibly could. We had a basketball game, teachers versus students, and I embarrassed myself majorly," he said. "We had spaghetti dinners; we sold t-shirts; we sold as much as we possibly could."

A coalition of military, veteran and civic groups organized the parade, along with the World War II Veterans Committee, the White House Commission on Remembrance, and America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate support for the nation's servicemembers and their families.

Justin Love, band director at Desoto High School, Kansas, said many of the marching bands were here thanks to invitations from "Music Celebrations International," a company that provides performance and educational opportunities to music groups. The invitations came based on recommendations from past performances and awards they have received.

"Our band has been here before, but it's been about 10 years," Love said, adding that his group has had a full Memorial Day weekend taking in lots of national history. "It's real special for these kids to come and be a part of this."

Some bands came from much closer than Kansas and Michigan. John Hoffner, director of Tussey Mountain High School band in Saxton, Penn., said his students normally make it here at least three times as they grow up. "They come down in 5th grade and 6th grade," he said. "They see different things each year, and then there's a trip in senior high. They come and see the Holocaust Museum."

Hoffner said noted this is the first time the school's band is marching in the nation's capital, and the group is planning something a little less traditional after the parade. "We're going to Pentagon City Mall. When the parade's over, they want to shop," he said.

After they finished marching, the students followed their chaperones to the nearest shade trees along Pennsylvania Avenue, took off their jackets, and began chugging water before putting their instruments away.

James Bruin, whose son plays trumpet in Lake Orion, Mich., said, "It was just a wonderful experience for the kids. ... We feel the history of our country is very, very important to our children's education, and this tied in very nicely."

"We're just drenched in sweat right now. If it wasn't for the parents, we all would've passed out," Meghan Sulisz, a tuba player with the Lake Orion school, said. But, she added, today was full of memories.

"We got to march in Washington, D.C.," Sulisz said with a smile. "Put that on your resume."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageBand members from Lake Orion, Mich., stretch their muscles on the National Mall before donning their uniform jackets and hats for the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., May 29. Photo by Paul X. Rutz  
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