CHARLOTTE, NC, June 5, 2018 – The world has suddenly become a different place for the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte).
For most of the 150 students who comprise the UNC Charlotte 49ers band, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy has just been another page from their history books, until now. Now that history comes to life in a memorable experience where they represent our nation as the only band from the United States to perform at the annual D-Day tributes in France.
UNC Charlotte Marching Band
On June 6, UNCC’s marching band will perform at Ste Mere-Eglise, the first village in Normandy to be liberated in the largest amphibious military operation in history. An event that occurred long before any of them was born.
Over the past 74 years since the invasion took place along the Normandy coast, several American universities have participated in the ceremonies, but the UNCC invitation is unique. Until September 2015, the university did not have a football team much less a marching band. Yet, less than a year after the band was formed, the school received the invitation to perform at the historic D-Day events in France.
Thus the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band lived up to its nickname virtually overnight, scoring a coup that will long be remembered by students and alumni alike.
Ste Mere Eglise and D-Day
Ste Mere Eglise is perhaps best remembered by a scene depicted in the movie “The Longest Day” when John Steele’s parachute got caught on a pinnacle of the tiny church roof during a pre-dawn assault by American paratroopers.
Today that event is commemorated inside the church with a stained glass window at one end of the sanctuary that depicts Steele hanging from the steeple.
Arguably the highlight of UNCC’s experience will come Thursday when they perform a concert at Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. Omaha was the bloodiest landing site of the five beaches that were attacked during the invasion.
D-Day Omaha Beach
When allied forces broke through the German defense at Omaha Beach in 1944, it signaled the beginning of the end for the Nazi war machine and Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror.
Today a permanent viewing site where the Americans penetrated into the interior peers out from the bluff overlooking the hallowed ground of the beach with the English Channel beyond. More than two thousands white crosses and Stars of David honor the men who gave their lives for the freedoms we have cherished so deeply since our Declaration of Independence in 1776. The markers face west in the direction of the United States….toward home.
Many people believe the UNC Chatlotte nickname of 49ers has to do with its location on Highway 49 or the discovery of gold in Charlotte in the 1800’s. Oddly enough, the name is derived from the fact that UNC-Charlotte (known at the time as Charlotte College) was rescued from being closed in 1949.
From those inauspicious beginnings, UNCC today represents its country at the site of one of the most historic events in world history.
Thanks in large part to the generosity of alumni Gene and Vicki Johnson, who were instrumental in the founding of the band in 2015, Chancellor Philip L. Dubois recognized the continuing efforts by the Johnsons to establish the distinguished reputation that led to the invitation.
Dubois, who was on hand with well-wishers including students, families and the campus community to see the band off, noted that “This trip is more than a great tour; it takes present-day students to the places where crucial history was made.”
Said Johnson, Class of ’73 and an Army veteran who served on the UNCC Board of Trustees for eight years, in response to the honor,
“To say I’m proud is an understatement. This is an amazing opportunity for our students to appreciate in a new and vivid way the history that produced our great university.”
Prior to departing for the airport last week, the students along with Chancellor Dubois, the Johnsons, Director of Bands Shawn Smith, and U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (’90, N.C. 8th Congressional District) each planted flag in front of Johnson Band Center bearing the name of a member of the armed services honored by alumni and friends who contributed to fundraising efforts for the trip.
Band members will wear sashes on their uniforms during their various appearances in France to pay tribute to American soldiers from every conflict throughout our history. In addition, they will also plant flags in Normandy with the same names as those they honored back home before their journey began.
In addition to performing, the band will visit Mont St. Michel and various sights in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Montmartre and the Paris Opera
Travel is frequently filled with life-altering experiences. For the young people of the UNC Charlotte Marching Band, their “Pride of Niner Nation” represents a personal moment in history that comes along only once as they pay tribute to those who preserved our liberty and justifiably discover themselves in the process.
It’s a moment that would make John Philips Sousa burst his buttons with pride and an episode in the lives of the 49ers that, like the D-Day invasion, will “not be forgotten.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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