2022 Wildcat Marching Band Helps Honor America’s Veterans
By: Ashley Crust, CMHS Band Director
The Central Mountain Wildcat Marching Band’s trip to Arlington National Cemetery and Washington, DC, on December 17, 2022, was a highly meaningful experience for our students and the adults who accompanied them. In addition to providing a grand opportunity to honor some of America’s fallen heroes, the trip expanded the students’ horizons, giving them a new perspective on our nation and the people and places who have made it what it is today. Having made this trip with band students in the past, I knew that it was an extremely worthy endeavor, but I was still impressed with the patience, enthusiasm, and compassion of the young people who traveled with us.
In the aftermath of the 2020 COVID pandemic, Arlington National Cemetery has adopted the policy of limiting the number of people who may attend the Wreaths Across America ceremony in Arlington. Because of this, and because of the great number of people interested in volunteering for this honor so close to our nation’s capitol (90,000+ volunteers in 2018), I woke up early on the day of registration so that I could be sure to get enough tickets for our band. With 21 tickets in my hand for an 8:00AM entry, I finalized the itinerary about a week before the trip. Our excited crew left Central Mountain High School at 2:30 on Saturday morning and chatted away for the first few hours of the ride before slowly drifting off, one by one. Upon arrival, we parked the bus as close as we could get it to the cemetery entrance and walked approximately 40 minutes, crossing over Memorial Bridge, into Arlington. One student in the group had attended our 2018 Wreaths Across America trip, and he enjoyed preparing the other students for the experience throughout the lengthy walk. It was amusing to see our group utilize marching band movement techniques to stay in an orderly formation so that we would not lose anyone in the hustle and bustle.
Just before we entered the cemetery, the staff pulled the group off to the side and explained the specific procedure for placing the wreaths on the gravestones. When we had gotten through security and were finally inside the cemetery, we located a truck that was not completely inundated with other volunteers. Collecting one wreath each, the students demonstrated the utmost respect and dignity in placing their wreaths, working in pairs or small groups and returning to the truck to get additional wreaths numerous times. Some of the younger students were tentative, at first, but it did not take long for them to catch on to the ceremony sequence, and within a few minutes, they were respectfully approaching gravestones, stating the veterans’ names, and placing wreaths carefully on the ground just like everyone else.
The students had expressed much interest in observing The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so we worked our way from truck to truck, placing wreaths in sections of the cemetery along that path. The observation deck for The Changing of the Guard was crowded, and many of the students were not able to see the ceremony first hand. However, we could all hear the commands clearly due to the respectful silence of the crowd, and some students were able to watch the process through other people's phones while they were recording it. After the guards had exchanged places, most of the crowd dispersed, and our students lingered behind so that they could observe the new guard pacing back and forth dutifully. When we left the area and could commence talking, many students commented on the amount of discipline necessary for such an honorable and solemn responsibility. I was quite pleased that they acknowledged the training and self-discipline required for that post, and that they could relate to it from their own marching band experiences.
Having completed our role in the ceremonial wreath laying, we prepared to exit the cemetery. We stopped for a group picture on the way out and then began our long trek back to the bus. When we finally arrived, our group of tired and hungry (but emotionally-fulfilled) students and adults cheerily began talking about plans for the rest of the day. Several students wanted to see the various war memorials, and others were interested in visiting museums–particularly the Smithsonian museums. A few students wanted to try their hand at ice skating, and some wanted to head straight for the US Capitol, which is closed on Saturdays but was still an impressive sight to see. We divided the students into groups based on what they wanted to see and do in Washington DC, and we all went our separate ways.
When we gathered on the bus that evening around 7:00, everyone shared stories from the afternoon, which had provided beautiful weather, albeit a little chilly. The students showed off the treasures they had collected and spoke of their amazement at how expensive food was. When questioned about the day's impression, their responses were unanimously positive. Most of the students had never been to a big city before, and this had been an exciting and eye-opening experience.
After an uneventful trip home, the staff bid some very sleepy passengers good night just before midnight. The trip had been a complete success, and the students had been excellent representatives of our school in every respect. The chaperones were extremely thankful for the opportunity to accompany such great students on what had been a very memorable journey, and the staff looks forward to participating in another Wreaths Across America ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery when we cycle through to the next generation of the Central Mountain Wildcat Marching Band. We even talked about inviting the Bucktail Drumline to go along on our next trip, which would allow us to share the benefits of this adventure with even more students while strengthening the bonds between our schools’ musicians. We are most grateful to the Keystone Central Foundation for your financial support and your recognition of this worthy experience for our students.