By Hank Nuwer
My Yankee Doodle sweetheart from Warsaw, Poland went with friends and me to the Greenville Independence Day concert on July 3. It was held at the Marling Band Shell in lovely Greenville City Park.
Band director JR Price had the audience in his hand as he introduced patriotic numbers, guest singers and the Greenville Color Guard showing the confidence of a ringmaster. The flamboyant Price wore a colorful flag shirt with stars on top and stripes across the bottom. He completed his wardrobe with poofy, red, white, and blue slip-ons.
The Greenville Municipal Concert Band responded to Price’s enthusiasm and direction with powerful presentations such Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Moving in and out of numbers were songs rendered by guest singers Chelsea and John Whirledge. Her version of Amazing Grace was a somber reminder of those who died on the battlefield.
For me, the most stirring moment was when Price led the Band in songs honoring all six military branches of service.
One by one, veterans rose from their portable chairs.. We, the audience, cheered each branch without partisanship.
The standing ovations brought me back in my mind’s eye post-World War II to the parades along the streets of Alden, NY. Alden was just another country town, but it was home to us.
When the bands back then on Independence Day played a John Sousa March to honor the U.S. Army, my father, a five-year veteran serving under Gen. Patton, seemed to stand a little straighter.
After the Greenville concert, our friends introduced my wife and me to a couple whose son lived in southern California in a specially adapted smart home for wounded veterans. His once strapping son had survived a bomb blast while in a combat zone, but he was sent home to family minus key limbs.
Actor Gary Sinise (who played legless Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump) felt “thank you for your service” was far short of deserved thanks for what wounded heroes had given of themselves to our country.
This man’s words about his son brought back an Irish lament, “Johnny, I hardly knew ya,” whose words I learned at Alden’s Independence Day celebrations.
Where are the legs with which you run,
Where are the legs with which you run,
When first you went to carry a gun
Indeed your dancing days are done
Johnny I hardly knew ya.
You can read about Sinise’s remarkable mission and donate to the cause at https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/.
The father of this hero, a tall man with more salt than pepper in his hair, praised Sinise’s efforts to get veterans into housing that accommodated physical limitations.
But then his mood became thoughtful. He observed how the Greenville audience mainly was made up of old timers and lots of children brought by doting grandparents.
He regretted the absence of 20-somethings in the crowd. He wondered aloud if that generation may pass on the patriotic traditions that we greybeards at the concert had etched into our DNA as youth.
His words made me reflect. With the crises here at home and abroad, are we Americans ignoring or honoring the passing on June 29 of “Woody” Williams, the last World War II Medal of Honor winner?
Long ago in 1954, my generation and the media celebrated the lives of the last four surviving Civil War veterans. That Independence Day, America’s citizens from North and South alike paid tribute to three Grey and one Blue survivors.
As well, all through the 1940s, America honored the last surviving African-American slaves. Among them was the Rev. George C. Braxton of Columbus, Ohio, who died at 115 in 1942. His young life as a slave was spent in West Virginia. His slave owner kept track of his age on a “birthday stick,” carving one notch per birthday.
In our Randolph and Darke Counties, newspapers honored David S. Moist (from the Indiana side of the stateline), the area’s oldest Civil War vet, all through the 1940s until his death at the age of 101 on January 15, 1946.
Except when ill health prevented attendance, First Sergeant Moist attended all state and national Grand Army of the Republic conventions. He served as Indiana state G.A.R. commander in 1941.
Moist, too, was a legitimate hero, serving with the Seventh Indiana Cavalry during bloody battles fought in Southern Territory. In addition to battlefield deaths, his outfit incurred significant fatalities from illness. Many soldiers, parched from thirst, drank river water contaminated by the corpses of dead steeds and soldiers.
I’ll close with a hats off to Price and the concert band. They rocked the Fourth.