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Military Bands History

Military Band History Project

Click on each above for more details about the bands and the film projects.

Military bands are a special part of military history and often played many roles during both wartime and during peacetime beginning from the earliest days of colonial American and across American history to the twenty-first century.. The Military Band History Project focuses primarily on the American story of military music, but occasionally military musicians of other nations are included when they come into contact with American military operations or engage in joint musical endeavors across the years. The mission of the MBHP is to preserve the history of American military bands, musicians, and musical operations from colonial times to the present. Areas of interest in these preservation activities include: instrumentation, musicology, arranging and composition, living conditions, instrument development, programming, outreach and social engagement, military duties, combat experience, and biography. The story of the life of a bandsman within the military environment provides additional understanding of the military story where music impacts national life and plays an underlying role in developing and supporting the military mission of a nation. It is a story often not told or examined, but frequently provides context to life in the military and offers new insights into the human nature of the military experience and a nation’s commitment to its people.

The 8th Army Band Project

The History of Military Bands Project began with a film project focused on the 8th Army Band stationed at Yongsan in Seoul, Korea in the late 1960s.   Dr. Vernon L. Williams explained that “the 8th Army Band has a long history, but I chose to focus on the time when I played French horn in the band and had the opportunity to do a number of oral history interviews who served with me during that time.”  The project produced a documentary film titled, The 8th Army Band:  A Musical Tradition Across Two Cultures.  The 8th Army Band film has led to other band projects that also rely on an extensive oral history program that will add important new insights into military music in the late twentieth century:  1) the 62nd Army Band at Ft. Bliss, Texas during the 1960s, and 2) the 5th Army Band and the funeral of President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Abilene, Kansas in 1969 (see proposed insert covers for both films above).

8th Army Band, circa Spring 1967
United Nations Ceremony, Knight's Field
SP5 Vernon L. Williams, Band Barracks

The two current documentary film projects on the 62nd Army Band and the 5th Army Band are in production and working on a late 2022 release goal. Both of these films will include oral history interviews and narration, archival film footage, and historical photographs. While many future project will produce historical essays and other presentations, not all bands will have film projects associated with their history. Old Segundo Productions, under Dr. Vernon L. Williams, is committed to producing a series of documentary films on military bands that will expand our knowledge of the musical tradition of the American military and provide important educational tools for the classroom at various levels in elementary and secondary institutions, libraries, and institutions of higher learning.

The 5th Army Band Project

The history of the Fifth Army Band actually can be traced back to December 1, 1941 when at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the band was activated as the Signal Corps Reserve Training Center Band. The band was then assigned to Camp Crowler, Missouri where it became the 348th Army Band in 1943. During the war years, the band was used extensively to support the war effort as a “Goodwill Ambassador” and traveled over 20,000 miles to help recruit troops and raise funds in the U.S. Saving Bond drives to support our troops in battle overseas. In September 1946, the band came to Fort Sheridan, Illinois and on April 25 1949, the band was designated as the Fifth United States Army Band. It remained at Fort Sheridan for over 25 years until the Headquarters was moved to San Antonio, Texas in the 1970′s. In 1972, the Band was decommissioned as the 5th Army Band, and the unit was sent to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. It was then renamed the 81st Army Band. Fort Sheridan, was officially closed by the Army on May 28, 1993.

5th Army Band Playing for Arrival of Funeral Party, April 2, 1969
CW4 Erling H. Erlandson, Bandmaster
Arrival of Eisenhower Casket in Abilene, Kansas, April 2, 1969

In April 1969 the 5th Army Band departed Chicago aboard a charter flight for St. Louis and buses to Fort Riley near Abilene where it awaited President Eisenhower funeral train from Washington, D.C. This documentary film traces the story of “Operation Kansas” and the 5th Army Band’s role in giving a final farewell to the former President, NATO commander, and Supreme Commander of the European Theater of Operations during World War II. The story is told by seven 5th Army bandsmen who remember those days in 1969 when the eyes of the nation and the world focused on Abilene, Kansas as they marched past the boyhood home and were a part of the final farewell to the President.


The 62nd Army Band Project

Originally constituted and organized as the Band, 15th Cavlary in 1901 at the Presidio in San Francisco, California. The band remained with the 15th Infantry through a number of reorganizations, redesignations, and inactivations until World War II. In 1942 the band was activated at Fort Riley, Kansas and two years later, it was reorganized and redesignated the 62nd Army Ground Forces Band. After the war, the band was redesignated the 62nd Army Band.

Dedication of Ft. Davis National Historic Site, April 1966
CW2 Herbert J. Bilhartz, Bandmaster
Sun Bowl Parade, January 1, 1966

By the 1950s and early 1960s, the 62nd Army Band was one of two bands stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas. During this time, the 62nd performed its duties on post in traditional parades, retreats, and retirement ceremonies. It served the surrounding community with concerts, the Sun Bowl and local parades, and other events. By 1965 times were changing as the Vietnam War brought growth and new demands on the Army. As the war expanded, the 62nd Army received new and younger bandsmen that allowed its role to expand into New Mexico and West Texas with recruiting concert tours, public relations performances, and various ceremonial duties that brought the Army valuable publicity and increased public awareness. This film will trace the story of the 62nd Army Band and its musicians during 1965 and 1966 when service at Fort Bliss set the stage for later service for many of the young musicians in Vietnam and Korea.

Other Band History Projects Underway

Other band research projects that are just underway and are in preliminary stages include the following military bands:

The 33rd Army Band in Europe

III Marine Expeditionary Force Band, Okinawa, Japan

TRADOC Band Base at Langley–Eustis, Newport News, Virginia