BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With just little over a week gone by since their long flight from the Hawaiian Islands, Fort Madison High School’s band students look back on their trip with special memories, not only of the special historical events they took part in, but of the islands and their people as well.
More than 110 students, teachers and chaperones traveled to the islands to participate in ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of the historical attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Dec. 7, 1941 attack in O’ahu, which at that point was a territory of the United States, marked the United States’ entry into WWII.
FMHS Choir Director Jeremiah Landon extolled on the strong historical and emotional feeling from the trip.
“It was a lot of fun and a great learning experience,” he said.
“One of my favorite parts was actually being at Pearl Harbor and realizing that 75 years ago it was attacked and the importance of that event. It meant a lot to me to be there and share that with my students.
“One of the things I learned that was cool was in the Pearl Harbor museum they had Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s written speech for that day and the really, really famous, ‘The date that will live infamy’, but actually it was supposed to be ‘A date that will live in world history’. Just that little word switch makes all the difference.”
Several students from the trip brought back special memories of an event that was way before their time, however the historical significance was not lost.
“Historical wise, I liked it when we went to the Arizona because we got to go through the museum beforehand.” said band student David Goebel. “The museum had a lot of cool exhibits, but also had videos running of the stories of the people who were there.
“It was pretty interesting. There was one video of a guy assigned to dispose of the bodies afterwards and only the top officers got coffins. So they were making these boxes for the rest of the soldiers and a lot of them.. they didn’t fit and so they had to do whatever it took to fit the bodies in the boxes. And sometimes there were just large boxes for body parts.”
FMHS drummer Noah Fedler also felt the historical weight of the week as he was singled out of all the drummers at the event to play a special solo on a snare drum.
“I was chosen to play the snare drum on the Arizona. Sadly it wasn’t shipped in in time, but I did get to play the solo on a different drum.”
Landon said one of the most impactful moments for the students was the wall of names of those that had perished in the attack. The music department students were challenged with writing short essays on Iowans that were killed on that day. The essays are now part of a book, “Iowans at Pearl Harbor Volume 1” available for $20 on Amazon’s CreateSpace.
“After the performance of the choir, we turned and faced the Arizona and sang the U.S. Navy Hymn there and that was probably one of the most humbling experiences,” Landon said.
“About 15 choir kids came and were a part of that and pretty much all the kids I interacted with were unbelievably respectful and knew the significance of the event. That was one of the reasons why last year we had them do an awesome project and research Iowans that were at Pearl Harbor and that Iowa connection was really, really important for them. The ones that were on the Arizona, they have a wall with every single name of the people that perished that day on there. The students were able to look up the name and make that connection and that was very good for them. To have that knowledge was important for them.”
Aside from the beach and Diamond Head and luaus, which were very well received by the students, there was the heavy responsibility of playing and singing with the mass groups for those in attendance at the special anniversary events.
“I think we sounded good,” said Sally Johnstun. I think that having that many people under those conditions and some groups only receiving their music a day before… we did really well. It was almost too big of a group. There were too many to get it synced together in the time we had.”
But FMHS Band Director Tracy Madsen said he was very impressed with the students on the trip and their dedication during the parade march on Wednesday.
“That was my favorite part. I like parade marching,” Madsen said. “They were very tired. Up at 5:15 a.m. and stepped off that night at about 8:15 p.m. and that was about 15 hours. It was a 1.5 mile parade route and another 1.25 mile to the ceremonial place. I was very pleased. They did it flawlessly all the way even as tired as they were.”
FMHS junior Shelby Wright said the Hawaiian people were fantastic and very excited at the parade.
“Some lady jumped out in front of us and was like “Oh My God. Its the Hawkeyes!”
“People were dancing and not clapping in beat and that kind of messed me up, but it was a really great experience,” Johnstun said.
Band member Maddie Sadler said the days were long but well worth the fatigue.
“We would wake up really, really early in the morning… 5 or 6 in the morning. As the week went on, the wake-up calls got more and more sad. Then we have breakfast in the lobby and from there it was just go on to something we were doing touristwise or practice or a performance. It was just go..go….go,” Sadler said.
“The days were filled. A non-stop trip. Up early.. to bed at a “decent” time but not too late,” Landon said. “Yeah it was just filled with stuff to do. On the ride home there were very, very few people up on the way home. I hope we can continue to do these kinds of things.”
One of the more laughable events had something to do with a luau and some dancing.
“Adam Wilson was selected at the luau to do the dance competition so he wore a skirt. But he was the only one who took his shirt off and put on a coconut bra,” said Goebel. “But he was awesome up there.”
Goebel himself got in on the dance action, but he was more impressed with the native food.
“The food was really good. At the luau they actually cooked the pig underground and oh…the pineapple. The pineapple was great.”