On June 6, 2018, the town square of Sainte-Mère-Église will echo with the sounds of wind and brass musicians celebrating a victory that happened decades before any of them drew breath. The UNC Charlotte students who make up the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band will be the lone U.S. band to play in the annual D-Day salute in France.
And yes, fundraising has already begun. Jeffrey Miller, associate director of bands and director of athletic bands at UNCC, hopes to take 150 students, as well as band staff, university officials, dignitaries and donors. He figures the trip will cost about $250,000, with each student’s tally as $3,600 – a sum he wants to reduce by half with donations.
Nationally known college bands have played these D-Day ceremonies before, including ensembles from Ohio State University, the University of North Texas and Iowa State University. But the Niners have been around for less than a year; they debuted Sept. 12, 2015, at the first home football game last season. How did they score such a coup?
After “government reduction of funds for military bands, distinguished collegiate marching bands began assuming (their) responsibilities,” Miller explained. “Our band, while very new, has already begun establishing a name for itself through outstanding performances and involvement with local high schools and the community.” (UNCC also got a boost from a recommendation by Bob Buckner, former director of the nationally respected Western Carolina “Pride of the Mountains” Marching Band.)
The voyagers will be in France for eight days, June 3-10. The band will play at the St. James American Cemetery in Brittany on June 5, honoring American World War II veterans. After the D-day concert in Sainte-Mère-Église, one of the first villages liberated by American troops, the band will finish with a June 7 concert at Normandy American Cemetery.
In addition to performing, the band will visit the cathedral at 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.