All of the high school students, and I do mean ALL - from each of the 10 bands across the country - wore a white Band of Pride Tribute sweatshirt. Was that confusing? Yes, indeede do. Good thing I was traveling with the band and choir then or I might have gotten lost.
Imagine, students from 10 bands across the country all converging on Times Square to simultaneously perform patriotic tunes honoring our nation’s veterans. Approximately 100 of those students are Edgerton High School Choir students. The only choir in the nation selected to perform, the bands ceased as their voices lifted and they sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
In addition to honoring the nation's veterans, the 2014 Band of Pride Tribute marked the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam Conflict, a fact which hit close to home for some students.
“I think that this trip was absolutely wonderful, especially because of the fact that it was honoring the Vietnam War-which is where my grandpa fought and died,” Grace Reinhart said.
“Honoring the veterans was amazing because my grandfather died on duty,” Danielle Erb said. “This was so amazing and something that I will never forget.”
“Coming from a military family myself, it really hit close to home. This was an extraordinary trip to be on, and I am glad to be a part of it,” Kaleb Dix added.
The musical honor continued on Veteran's Day, when Edgerton students assembled to march down New York City's 5th Avenue. Students from across the country were not the only ones who showed up to honor the nation's veterans. The parade boasted 20,000 participants from veteran and service organizations, military groups, musicians, even Miss New York Jillian Tapper, who wowed the crowd with her baton twirling skills.
The Band of Pride Parade was more than a form of national entertainment. While the parade participants were assembling, local veterans were being honored in nearby Madison Square Park.
“Today we are here to pay tribute to America's veterans, the brave men and women who served in the military in war time and times of peace. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of the 'Star-Spangled Banner.' 'Land of the free, home of the brave' is the ideology this great country was founded on,” said Wounded Warrior Project CEO Steven Nardizzi. “But I like to say that phrase a little differently. We are the land of the free because of the brave. Because of all of you here today. That is why today and every day we need to salute the service men and women who protect and preserve our way of life."
Wounded Warrior Project is an organization that supports wounded veterans in many ways. The Combat Stress Recovery Program addresses the mental health and cognitive needs of warriors returning from war. Soldier Ride is a four-day cycling opportunity for wounded service members and veterans to use cycling and the bonds of service to overcome physical, mental or emotional wounds. Wounded Warrior Project also offers educational programs, information technology training and employment assistance service to encourage economic empowerment for warriors.
“It is an awesome and humbling responsibility, but one we readily accept because this great country and the freedoms we enjoy are only possibly through the service and the courage and the sacrifice of our veterans,” Nardizzi concluded. “We live in the land of the free because of the brave. As American citizens, we are all responsible for helping our veterans - no matter what their injury - successfully reintegrate into their community. Today and everyday, let's let our veterans know that we remember and appreciate them because the greatest casualty is being forgotten.”
As the 95th annual Band of Pride Parade began, Edgerton High School student waited patiently to make their entrance behind the U.S. Army Band. First the Edgerton Color Guard, twirling the silver and black banners, followed by the band. Although they did not sing in the parade, members of the Edgerton High School Choir marched behind the band. Sixteen students were offered banners to march with, while other choir students teamed up to carry a large American flag down the street.
“One of my favorite moments was when we began the parade, we turned the corner onto 5th Avenue and saw the streets lined with thousands of people as far as the eye could see,” Skifton said. “People were yelling to us things like 'Welcome to New York,' 'Thank you for coming,' 'Go Packers!' and 'Go Badgers!' I also loved the looks on their faces everywhere we went.”
The importance, honor and pride of having the opportunity to honor the nation's veterans was best summed up by Edgerton High School student Alex Schmidt.
“New York City was one of the best experiences of my life. Representing our State of Wisconsin (and) honoring the veterans who protect our country was amazing, and nothing could ever beat that,”