Monday, July 11, 2011

Of Budget Cuts and Memorial Services; As the Band Played On … Maybe

On a somber day in late October 1968 I entered a hangar at the Marine Corps air field in Quang Tri, South Vietnam, for a memorial service to six members of my unit who had been killed in action a few days earlier. A Marine from another unit at Quang Tri also died that week and his friends were there for the service too.

A few hundred Marines squeezed into that hangar and listened grim faced as the names of the dead were read, their brief histories were recounted and the chaplains from the various faiths performed their services. Then the First Marine Aircraft Wing Band that had flown up from Da Nang played Eternal Father, with one line changed from "for those in peril on the sea" to "for those in peril in the air."

I never was one for funeral services but a Staff Sergeant in my unit had made a point earlier in the day … "If it was you, wouldn't you want to know that your friends cared enough to come for your service."

So I went and even though it has been nearly 43 years I still remember that service, the people who died, and especially the Marine Band playing Eternal Father. I hadn't expected a band at such a forward and remote airfield, but their music touched me that day, and does to this day.

I had been in Vietnam for about six months by then, had flown more than 100 combat missions and had gone a long way toward insulating my emotions from the daily horrors of combat. But for just a moment, that band reached deep inside me, touched my soul, and retained my humanity. For that I will always be grateful.

That was not my first encounter with a Marine band in that area along the violent Demilitarized Zone. In July 1968 the combat base at Khe Sanh, where a siege only a few months earlier resulted in the deaths of 274 Americans and between 10,000 and 15,000 North Vietnamese communist troops, was dismantled having been declared unnecessary with the more mobile tactics successfully being employed against the communists.

Since the fighting was so fierce there, formal decommissioning ceremonies were held and the Marine Band was flown up from Da Nang to play taps. I flew medevac missions there, had taken incoming there, along with air bursts, and marveled at the bravery of these musicians who came armed with brass and percussion instruments, dedicated to doing their jobs to memorialize and honor the fighters who survived and those who did not.

Now, all these years later, in the midst of a nationwide battle over national debt, national spending and the future of America, Congress wants to cut the budget for musicians in all services by about one third!

Are you people serious? A one-hundred million dollar cut from the bands in an overall $500 billion defense budget? Aren't there a couple of old ships that need to go into mothballs, or a few dozen aging aircraft that have outlived their serviceable lives? Don't give me that, we both know there are.

So I ask again, are you people – in Congress – serious? I guess not. In fact, the Washington Post quoted Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who sponsored the measure to reduce funding, arguing that “the Pentagon doesn’t need any more band aid.”

Band aid! Get it? Hahahahahahahahaha.

"Is this House really capable of gutting investments in women’s health care but allowing a $5 million increase in funding for military bands?" the Post also quoted this lamebrain as saying, in a classic example of diversion since one has nothing to do with the other. This woman is a brain dead, knuckle dragging, snot-slinging Neanderthal. I said that. Me, not the Post or anyone else. Me.

The Post said the assault on military music "marks the first time that spending on the military’s 154 bands has been reduced by Congress. To take effect, however, the reduction must be approved by the Senate, which has yet to take up the fiscal 2012 Defense Appropriations Bill."

The Post also has reported that in a classic example of bipartisanship Rep. John Carter (R-Tx.) has joined with his co-chairman in the Army Caucus on Capitol Hill, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx.), in a "Dear Colleague" letter, describing the assault on the military as "highly detrimental to our armed forces," because the bands "uphold pride and morale through music at funerals, welcome home celebrations, concerts, ceremonies and other esprit-de-corps events."

The bands also make recordings, often in their own studios, which are distributed free, because they can’t by law sell them.

Bands including the U.S. Marine Corps Band, "the President’s Own," which plays at White House functions, the U.S. Army Band, the U.S. Air Force Band and the U.S. Navy Band are well known in Washington. The Coast Guard band is administratively placed under the Department of Homeland Security.

Each service band also has smaller instrumental and singing groups, such as the Marine’s Chamber Orchestra, the Army’s Singing Sergeants, the Navy’s Sea Chanters, the Air Force Strings, and the Coast Guard’s Brass Quintet and Saxophone Quartet. The services also have bands that are stationed overseas but the Washington-based bands often travel as well.

All of this is important and it may be possible to make some reductions in travel or similar costs, but the worldwide cost of the bands is $325 million annually, which the anti-American forces in Congress want reduced by more than one-third to $200 million. So they want to go from roughly one dollar per American citizen to about 66 cents per American citizen. I guess illegal aliens get a pass.

Anyway, I think this is a travesty. There is so much more to our military musicians. They help in recruiting sure, but have you seen their music on the National Mall on Independence Day? Or at the Iwo Jima Memorial? Have you heard their vocalists?

Have you seen the chamber music played at official White House functions for foreign dignitaries? Have you even been to Eighth and I Streets in Washington, D.C., on a Friday night – the home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps – and seen the Drum and Bugle Corps and the Silent Drill Team? Have you been to a summer concert by Pershing's Own, the U.S. Army Band?

Tell me that Anchors Aweigh, or Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder don't get your blood pumping.

Yes, they all help with recruiting efforts and for that alone are worth their money. They also provide a path for thousands of musicians to continue on in civilian music careers, and for some they provide a full-time military career.

They were at Dover Air Base in October 1983 when the bodies of Americans killed in the Beirut bombing were brought home. They are in the vicinity of every American service member anywhere in the world, and they often are ambassadors to countries where some goodwill is a great idea.

And they go to remote, often hostile locales, to do what they do best, and remind our troops that America and Americans appreciate what they are doing, and haven't forgotten them.
Our military musicians represent the best of America, the pride of America, the hope of America. They lift our spirits and remind us of what is possible even when we are locked in desperate struggles against all enemies "foreign and domestic."

To reduce the opportunities to see and hear these ambassadors of the soul is anti-American, there is nothing else to call it. Those who support any reduction in our military music capabilities deserve to spend a two-year tour travelling to hostile environments – carrying the instruments for those who serve so willingly and so well.


Anonymous said...

Weren't we told that the $8 billion dollars worth of add-ons to the stimulus bill were just rounding errors? You know the millions spent to study pig smells......Same old game. If you're going to cut my program then I'll make sure I get you back.

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