Special to the Tribune
Weaverville – More than a hundred students, parents, staff and chaperones arrived home from Normandy, France this week where they commemorated the 75th anniversary of America’s successful invasion of Normandy Beach, an accomplishment that hastened the conclusion of World War II.
Nathan Brown, the school’s band director, spoke to the Tribune about the trip and the practical reality involved in making such a thing happen.
“We got home at two different times, two different flights. More or less, it was Tuesday [June 11]. One group got home late Tuesday. The other group actually got back early in the morning on Wednesday,” he said, talking about their return trip home.
“The actual celebration was the 75th anniversary of the D-Day, invasion of Normandy. This event has been in the works for two years.”
Brown said a nonprofit company, Historic Programs, was responsible for organizing the event and many others like it. According to the group’s website, “Historic Programs is a not-for-profit organization committed to remembering people, places and events that have shaped the world.”
“We got invited roughly about two years ago,” Brown continued. “The reason that the band was invited is that we played at Pearl Harbor about five, six years ago and … the company that puts these things together invited us to the Normandy celebration. About two or three years ago they did the President’s Cup, which is a festival through the same company. They invited us simply because we’ve done things with them and they kind of know our reputation of doing well and the success that we’ve had representing the community and the country in a positive way.”
He described to the Tribune the long and tedious process of planning the logistical requirements for such a massive endeavor.
“It’s been two years of fundraising and planning, logistic stuff. It’s obviously kind of a big event. We had roughly about 125 total people [go to Normandy]. That includes staff, chaperones, parents. It was about 75 students.”
Brown reported that it was the high school’s marching band that had the honor of being invited to play in France. “It was mostly the marching band. A few students that were not in marching band did get invited, but 98 percent of it was marching band. It was mostly a marching band-type event. The first two days we performed at two cemeteries that are there in France.
“The first one is the Brittany American Cemetery there in Saint-James [Normandy]. The second one, which was the following day, was the Normandy American Cemetery next to Omaha Beach. We did two performances there. Those performances were roughly about ten or twelve bands from across the country that participated in this. We performed a mass-band piece, which was about 3,000 people playing this one piece.
“That piece was by John Williams … ‘Hymn to the Fallen.’ There were bands from Texas, there’s one group from Alaska. [The event was] particularly American, which is what made this unique.”
Brown told the Tribune that, with a total price tag of nearly $500,000, the students would have to contribute a fair amount of cash to fund their own trip.
“The total budget for the trip, we were pushing half a million, is what it cost. Fundraising, but the kids did have to pay some of that out of pocket. It was roughly $3,000 per kid. We had lots of fundraising opportunities for them. A lot of them did not pay that total amount. Countless, endless fundraisers. I had a great team of parents and staff, we’ve been working with everything from, ‘how do we get instruments up over there,’ to plane tickets and everything else. It did not happen overnight.”