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Trip of a lifetime: District band part of 75th Pearl Harbor anniversary in Hawaii

School District 833

While a stiff ocean breeze fluttered the flags and palm trees at Pearl Harbor, Simon Miller of Woodbury played "Taps" on his trumpet.

The mournful notes echoed off the gray hull off the USS Battleship Missouri Museum, where an audience stood on the deck.

Down on the dock with Miller stood the other members of the South Washington County Marching Band, composed of students from East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools.

"Right as he started playing I got a goosebumps kind of sensation," drumline captain Nick Hanselman, 17, of Woodbury, said. "We were facing the ship so the sound kind of echoed off the shipwreck. It was a somber experience but it was kind of cool. I'd never experienced anything like it before."

The band spent Thanksgiving break in Oahu, Hawaii, where they performed as part of the observance of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack by the Japanese Dec. 7, 1941, plunged America into World War II.

The kids were still buzzing from their experience the night before, where they marched in the annual Waikiki Holiday Parade, the island's annual Pearl Harbor tribute. They were one of the 30 bands from the mainland who were invited to participate in the event.

Dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts, they marched down torch-lit Kalakaua Avenue along Waikiki Beach, where thousands of spectators lined the route. The parade also included military units, veterans and local dignitaries.

Each band carried a banner honoring one of the Navy ships that were involved in the attack. The District 833 students carried a banner that specifically honored the survivors of the USS Raleigh, CL-7.

The trip was the result of two years of planning by band directors Brent Comeau at East Ridge, Tark Katzenmeyer and Branden Steinmetz at Woodbury and Thomas Storm at Park. Students also held fundraisers. Each student was responsible for raising $2,750.

"In 2010 the district marching band marched in the Waikiki holiday parade and did a similar trip," Comeau said. "For the big 75th anniversary they invited many of the bands who have participated back and we took them up on the offer."

Students and staff also visited the Polynesian Cultural Center and Diamond Head National Monument. They also toured the Dole Pineapple Plantation and snorkeled with sea turtles.

One of the highlights for flute player Julia Malecha of Cottage Grove was hiking to the top of the Diamond Head volcano with students from East Ridge and Woodbury who she'd met for the first time.

The playing of "Taps" at the USS Battleship Missouri Museum was part of a concert of patriotic songs Malecha and the band performed. They included the Star Spangled Banner and the Armed Services Medley.

To raise money for her portion of the trip, Malecha, 17, worked two jobs, one as a swimming instructor and the other at Red's Savoy Pizza in Newport.

"For me, I think the highlight was getting to perform in front of the USS Missouri," she said. "I've always been a history geek. ... Getting to perform a lot of songs that have deeper meaning at a place so historic was really kind of amazing."

All three band directors said they were proud of the way the kids comported themselves.

"I think the thing that sticks in my mind is the reverence the kids brought to their performance at Pearl Harbor," Woodbury band director Katzenmeyer said. "The kids not only played music with passion but understood the historical significance of the performance."

He noted that the same place that marked America's entrance into World War II was the same place where it came to an end.

"Our audience was standing on the Surrender Deck," Katzenmeyer said. "That's where the Japanese signed their surrender during World War II."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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