After 133 years, it's taps for First U.S. Army Band

April 01, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

With the final notes of the "Army Song," the First U.S. Army Band fell silent yesterday, inactivated after 133 years.

formation. As the bands passed each other, the Aberdeen group took up the music as the Fort Meade band fell silent.

"How do you say goodbye to a unit that has touched us on so many occasions?" Lt. Gen. John P. Otjen, First Army commander, asked a crowd of about 300 family members and military personnel during the ceremony.

"So here we stand without adequate words to thank you," Lieutenant General Otjen said. "We cannot pay tribute to you in song, we do not have your talents."

Though saddened about the band's inactivation, members say the Army is still one of the few ways musicians can play professionally and get a steady paycheck.

A year ago, Specialist Edward L. Chambers gave up playing his trumpet at Blues Alley and Lisner Auditorium in Washington to play for the Army.

"I wanted to play my instrument," he said. "The Army was the perfect opportunity. I don't have to worry."

The 21-year-old Bowie native graduated from the Suitland School of Performing Arts and studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York.

The Army has reassigned him to Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

Specialist Alexandria Lewis, a 1993 graduate of the Baltimore School of Arts, joined the Army seven months ago to earn money for college and continue playing her flute.

"It'll be a new change," said the 19-year-old Baltimore native, who is being transferred to Fort Rucker, Ala. "It just seems I just got here and I'll be packing up again."

Band members may continue playing for the Army, but the First Army Band is gone. The 389th Army Band will take over its responsibilities.

"They're dissolving a great band," said a tearful Tom Ford, a former member of the Third U.S. Army Band. "It's very pathetic. It's very sorrowful."

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