Trio to brass: keep 40th Army Band intact
MIDDLEBURY — If it weren’t for a federal rule stipulating retirement by age 60, Jim Lanpher, Peter Young and David Ingham would still be performing in the 40th Army Band of the Vermont National Guard.
For them, 117 years of combined service among them really wasn’t enough — they still occasionally show up at band rehearsals, instruments in tow, hoping for an invitation to join in.
“Aside from my family, there is nothing I have done in my life that I am more proud of,” said Ingham, a Huntington native who begrudgingly packed up his trumpet after 41 years with the 40th — an all-time record.
“The band has been like family to me for a number of years,” echoed Young of Orwell, a trombone player, whose 38-year run concluded in 2003.
“I miss it a lot,” lamented Lanpher, a Vergennes resident and trumpet player who in 2009 also had to step away after 38 years.
With that many years of love and devotion invested in the outfit, one can understand how these comrades in brass are having a difficult time swallowing this bit of news, confirmed on Sept. 6 by 40th Army Band leader David Myers: The 40th is slated to be decommissioned at the end of 2017, and Vermont Guard officials are pursuing a plan to make the group a detachment of the New Hampshire National Guard 39th Army Band.
The Sept. 6 letter from Myers explains the scheduled change as part of the “Army-wide reduction in forces.” At the same time, he states, there is a commitment to maintaining a band in Vermont and adds “assurances have been given that there is no anticipation of personnel cuts,” that all bandsmen will continue to train and will “continue to operate under Vermont command and control.”
Myers indicated the next few years will determine the exact fate of the 40th Army Band.
“At this point, there are more questions than answers as we have not begun to develop plans on how this new configuration will look and function,” Myers continues in his letter. “The unit stands at the ready to meet its missions over the next three years and will approach the reconfiguration with professionalism and the determination to meet the ongoing mission of Army Bands. The new unit designation will be DET1, 39th Army Band, Vermont National Guard.”
Ingham, Young and Lanpher served notice on Monday they aren’t ready to see their beloved band decommissioned and potentially subordinated to being a detachment to the New Hampshire 39th — a band that they argued has fewer than the 40th’s 30 members.
Instead, the trio has been drumming up support for their musical crusade, “Save Vermont’s own 40th Army Band,” an effort they hope will result in a reprieve for the 40th, or perhaps new orders that would result in the 39th becoming a detachment of the 40th, instead of vice versa.
The roots of the 40th date back to 1907, when the band was organized at Brattleboro as the 1st Infantry Band, later becoming part of the 172nd Infantry, 43rd Division. During World War II, the band served with the 43rd Division in the South Pacific.
The band has been stationed around Vermont, including at Rutland, Proctor and Burlington, before landing at its current headquarters at Camp Johnson in Colchester.
Lanpher said the 40th Army Band delivers around 20 performances each year throughout the state. It also performs at troop deployments and when soldiers return.
It should also be noted the 40th Army Band is one of the Vermont National Guard’s “Quick Reaction Force” teams. In August 2011, the band was activated for “Operation Green Mountain Spirit” to assist with the Tropical Storm Irene response efforts.
During its 11-day activation, the Band assisted with transporting first responders through high water areas, establishing a commodities distribution point, and getting goods to the hard-hit communities of West Weathersfield, Quechee, West Hartland, Northfield and Moretown.
The band has also played internationally, in Canada, Panama and Italy, to name a few locations.
“I’ve played in almost every town and marched in every town, and there are a lot of Vermonters that have seen us,” Young said. “I want their support, or at least to let them know Vermont’s own 40th Army Band is (at risk of being) decommissioned.”
Ingham moved from Huntington to Bloomingdale, N.Y., many years ago for employment reasons, but he maintains fierce loyalty to the Green Mountain State and his musical band of brothers. His allegiance to the 40th has been so strong that he had no qualms making the commute from Bloomingdale to Colchester. Ingham, Lanpher and Young noted other bandmates commuted long distance — sometimes through New Hampshire — to perform with the 40th.
“Vermonters are very prideful,” Ingham said. “When I joined this band, it was the 40th Army band. That’s what I retired from. That’s what I’d like my memories to contain.”
Ingham joined the Army at age 17, with his parents’ permission. He praised the Vermont National Guard for the knowledge, camaraderie and livelihood it has offered him throughout the years. He pointed to the 40th Army Band emblem on his shirt and served notice that he was not prepared to change it to the 39th.
“It is only typed words on a shirt, but those of us who wear the shirt are proud of what we are representing,” Ingham added. “Were not here to bash the 39th. We are here to maintain and keep what we have.”
All three friends were interested in music prior to joining the service. And all three developed greater proficiency and interest in music after they joined the 40th band. They also gained an extended family.
“When you are in a unit for 41 years, you go through the ups and downs in people’s lives, births, death and divorces,” Ingham said. “And when you go through things like that in the 40th, you are not alone. You have a lot of people to hold your hand.”
The three friends and their former band mates will be forever linked by their experiences performing together.
Lanpher, Young and Ingham fondly recalled the band’s 1990 performance in Verona, Italy, at the International Alpini Reunion Festival. The Alpini are an elite mountain warfare corps of the Italian Army who played a role in that nation’s liberation following Mussolini. The Alpini and the Italian government have extended an annual invitation to a U.S. band to march at the head of the parade in recognition of the American military’s contributions during World War II.
Lanpher recalled how the teeming mass of spectators parted to allow the bands to march through the streets of Verona during what became an all-day party in which the 40th was given special attention. Each band played the same song — the official theme of the Alpini.
“It drew a huge crowd,” Lanpher said. “There were people everywhere. It was an amazing event to be a part of.”
Not every performance goes through without a hitch, in spite the many hours of band practice, Lanpher recalled. As an example, he cited the 40th’s appearance at a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Montreal during the mid-1980s. It was 16 degrees that day. The band members got off the bus in Montreal cold — literally and figuratively.
“We hadn’t had a chance to warm up,” Lanpher said, with a chuckle. “Our lips and our instruments wouldn’t function properly.”
Saliva within the instruments froze, rendering some of the brass instruments silent after a while. When the 40th stopped at the review stand, the sun hit the frozen instruments and gradually thawed them out. This made for a very unique and interesting rendition of the Canadian national anthem, which they had been asked to perform.
Then there are times when the instruments work well, but there are other obstacles to overcome. Case in point — an appearance at the Tunbridge Fair, during which the 40th had to march in a parade behind various animals. Band members had to keep one eye on the ground to avoid stepping into steaming piles of number two.
Military bands must also make the rounds at some solemn occasions — including when one of their own passes on. Young recalled leaving his primary drum major gloves on the casket of one of his departed colleagues who had aspired to a leadership role with the 40th.
The three veterans of the 40th continue to be involved in other musical groups, but they’ll always miss being regulars of the 40th. They are now fighting to make sure other Vermonters will have the same experiences as they did.
“We’re hopeful,” Young said of the effort to preserve the 40th in its present form. “You can’t win unless you try.”
Public discontent about the 40th’s potential decommissioning is already reverberating in Colchester.
Myers, in a Sept. 10 follow-up communiqué, noted the “reaction of the community has been swift.”
“I am flattered by the overwhelming support shown for the unit at this time but I ask everyone to take a step back a bit and let us have time to work through the details, ” he wrote.
Myers reiterated his confidence that Vermont’s Army band will be saved, albeit as a detachment of the 39th. That’s a better fate than the eight other Army bands that are to be eliminated, Myers noted.
“A side benefit of combining the units is that we will have a band well over strength and deep with excellent musicians and experience,” Myers writes. “The potential is overwhelming if managed correctly.”
But Lanpher, Young and Ingham aren’t inclined to sit back and see the 40th potentially lose its identity. They vowed to continue to shed light on what they believe is at stake for the band.
“The band is under orders to make this change happen,” Lanpher said with a smile. “Their job is to execute the orders. They really don’t have much control over what happens, other than just obeying orders. But we’re all retired, and we don’t have to take orders anymore.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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