By Robin Miller
July 09, 2012
Joe Ford sighed, then looked into the distance, somewhere between the past and present.
“I’m glad I’m not over there now,” he said.
He said it quietly, a statement filled not with disrespect but the opposite.
He’s been “over there” before, flying as an interceptor fighter pilot for the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1958.
But the “over there” that dominated his thoughts at that moment was a combination of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This concert is as much for the soldiers who are over there right now as those who came before them,” Ford said.
And he’s right. Memorial Day is set aside for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, but the Baton Rouge Concert Band’s annual performance on this holiday is multi-layered. It honors the fallen while recognizing military veterans and paying tribute to active military.
“When we play the ‘Armed Forces Salute,’ we ask all the veterans and active military members to stand when we play the song that honors their branch,” Jim Kersh said. “And we stand up, too.”
Kersh refers to himself and Ford, along with the concert band’s other military veterans, Jim Young, Randy Smith, Rick Barrios and Adrain Johnson. Also included in this round-up is Gary Stewart, who is still a major in the U.S. Army Reserves.
They will join their fellow band members at 7 p.m. Monday, May 28, in performing the Baton Rouge Concert Band’s annual Memorial Day Concert on the Louisiana State Capitol steps.
The band is conducted by Sheily Bell. Daniel Modenbach is the co-conductor, and Lew Carter is the moderator.
The music lineup includes “America the Beautiful” and John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
But merely thinking of the “Armed Forces Salute” made this handful of band members sit a little straighter in their chairs.
“I get chills thinking about that song,” Ford said.
And he’ll be playing it on his trumpet.
“We lay down our instruments when it’s time to stand,” Barrios, who will be playing his tenor saxophone, added.
Barrios was a second class petty officer working as a radar man in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1971. Ford, meantime, was a first lieutenant when flying his plane.
“I retired a captain,” he said.
Kersh was a first lieutenant when he served in the U.S. Army’s field artillery from 1961 to 1962. He’ll be playing his trombone, and Johnson will be playing his clarinet.
Johnson was a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves, where he served as a petroleum engineering specialist from 1952 to 1968.
Smith, a drummer, was a first lieutenant in the Army from 1959 to 1962.
And then there’s Young, the euphonium player. A euphonium is a smaller version of a tuba, and the tuba was Young’s instrument when he was a member of the LSU Tiger Marching Band in the late 1950s.
But Young was an airman third class in the Navy Reserves in 1960 and was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany, built the Berlin Wall in 1961.
The five veterans showed up early for the band’s regular rehearsal in the LSU Orchestra Room on this particular Tuesday to talk about their military service, as well as the upcoming concert.
“It’s the one time of the year that people think about the vets,” Kersh said.
“It’s an honor to play this concert,” Barrios added.
But Ford looked into the distance as pictures of soldiers fighting in Middle East deserts filled his mind.
“It’s as much for them as it is for us,” he said again.
Maybe even more.