HOLYOKE, Mass. – Music and the U.S. military have a long and storied relationship. Fife and drum music of the Revolutionary War was used to boost morale during the fight for independence. In the trenches of World War I, service members sang songs to distract their minds from the stresses of combat. To entertain troops during World War II, Glenn Miller and his Air Force band rearranged old standards.
Today, the tradition continues with USO shows featuring prominent acts such as the Lt. Dan Band (headed by actor Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan in the film “Forrest Gump”) and many active military bands.
It was in this spirit and tradition that two former members of the 215th Army Band, Massachusetts Army National Guard, visited the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke to play patriotic music to show appreciation and boost the morale of the service members, staff and veteran residents May 7.
“In the Army, I spent most of my career as the commander of the Army Band,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jim Girard, a retired member of the 215th Army Band, Massachusetts Army National Guard. “So, I know the power of music and what it can do for the morale of Soldiers and veterans.”
Girard played alongside Sgt. 1st Class Frank Noonan, also formerly with the 215th Army Band. Both were called to duty from the Commonwealth’s State Retirement List to support the troops on the front lines in the state’s fight against COVID-19. Girard and Noonan are scheduled to play other ‘thank you’ events across the state.
The events will provide music that is decidedly patriotic, not celebratory, as they delve into the rich American songbook.
“It’s really great that we are part of a country that has so many patriotic songs that we can feel a sense of pride from and sing along to. Everybody knows them. They did a really great job,” said Army Cpl. Morgan Long, a medic with the 182nd Medical Command who has been working to support the Soldiers’ home since the beginning of April. “Music is always a good morale booster and having retired people come in and show their support for us now feels really good.”
While service members and staff members were able to enjoy snacks, drinks and other treats provided by the USO, Girard and Noonan went through the official songs of the five service branches of the U.S. Military and other patriotic standards.
“With the older music, it makes you think of the people who were in situations like this before you and how they got through it,” said Army Pfc. Melanie Rea, a medic with the 182nd Medical Command. “Especially being here with the veterans, it’s older music that they were playing, this is stuff that they were listening to.”
In addition to providing patriotic melodies, Girard and Noonan interacted with the audience to express their thanks and appreciation.
“They were very sincere when they talked to us about how proud they were,” said Rea, “and how we are on the front lines, and everybody’s proud of us. It made us feel special for being here.”
The performers fittingly ended the concert with “God Bless America.” The music was played in the facilities courtyard and could be heard inside the building’s hallways. At one point, the staff placed a 'thank you' sign up to the window to show their appreciation.
“What better time to come up to a place like the Soldiers’ home where we’ve got great heroes working as medics,” said Girard. “And the veterans that are here as well. If there’s ever a time to instill some patriotism and the feeling of honor and pride in your service, this is the time. So, all I want to do, and all Sgt. Noonan wants to do, is to make everybody stand up a little taller and be proud of what they do.”