As a musician who has played events related to veterans and the military for most of his life, Jim Hill could be forgiven if he simply goes through the motions when he helps kick off the Tribute to Heroes Parade as part of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble.
It just isn't the case, though, for Hill, who lives in Savanna at Lakewood Ranch.
"I can't hear the Marines' Hymn without standing at attention," said Hill, a retired career U.S. Marine who plays the trumpet. "And I love those John Philip Sousa patriotic marches."
The Tribute to Heroes Parade, which is returning to Lakewood Ranch Main Street for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, signed the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble to entertain the crowd just before the start of the actual parade. A pre-party begins at 6 p.m., and a 17-piece Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble will perform shortly afterward. The parade will begin approximately at 7 p.m.
The May 22 event not only is held as a precursor to Memorial Day Weekend, but it also honors local veterans.
Like Hill, several members of the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble not only are military veterans; they are military band veterans.
Hill makes sure to protest when anyone suggests he is any less of a Marine because he played a trumpet for most of his military career.
"Every year we celebrate the Marine Corps birthday, which is a big event on Nov. 10," Hill said. "We get together, and invariably it comes up. 'What did you do? Oh, you weren't in the real Marine Corps.' Well, I went to boot camp, and when you are in the Marine Corps Field Bands, you are a Marine first. And I played at all the ceremonies you wanted me to be at. I loved what I was doing."
He noted those in the Marine Corps Field Bands must train in rifle range exercises and they are required to maintain their skills. In the Marines from 1978-1998, he once spent a year in Okinawa, Japan, and traveled to South Korea, Guam, and the Philippines for military exercises.
During the first Gulf War, in 1991, some members of the Marine Corps Field Bands were deployed, although Hill was assigned to work security at the base in Twentynine Palms, California.
After he retired from the service, he liked to play concerts such as the Tribute to Heroes Parade, and another for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble 5 p.m. May 30 at the Sarasota National Cemetery. Both are free concerts that welcome the public. The May 30 event will include comments from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and a reading of the names of veterans interred at the cemetery. The Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble, which will feature approximately 40 musicians that day, will play ceremonial and patriotic music. The public is invited and anyone who would like to add to the names of veterans who were killed in action, can send an email to Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble Conductor Joe Miller at [email protected].
Other musicians in the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble also have served with military bands. Venice's Pete BarenBregge was a career member of the U.S. Air Force from 1979-1998 who served all that time with the Airmen of Note jazz ensemble and retired as a master sergeant.
"This was an extremely specialized, premier band in Washington, D.C.," BarenBregge said. "I was 29, teaching school in Wilmington, Delaware, and I got to hear the Airmen of Note. Wow! These guys were amazing. I was a very active musician and I longed to be a full-time musician. What the heck? I decided to contact them."
He tried out and then enlisted when he was accepted into the band.
Although he admitted boot camp was "not a pleasant experience," the rest of his military career was playing the saxophone or other woodwinds, such as flutes and clarinets.
"But there was (military) training like every single person," he said. "That was standard. In a time of crisis, my (assignment) would have been based on troop morale in a wartime environment. Shortly after I retired in 1998, some of the musicians in the band with me were sent frequently to the Middle East."
His band's responsibility included music at funerals, and entertaining the public for public relations and recruiting.
"We needed to be model military people performing at an extremely high level," he said. "We were top flight professionals. The last thing we wanted was a negative response."
While he plays now for many different reasons and in many different venues, he enjoys playing at events that salute veterans such as the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble's upcoming concerts.
"These concerts mean a lot," he said. "Playing for veterans is an honor and a privilege."
Lakewood Ranch's Bob Richards agrees. He started as a member of the U.S. Army Band in Washington, D.C. (Pershing's Own) as a trumpet player and had different band assignments during his career from 1973-1999. He retired as a master sergeant.
Richards said the bands had an important role to bolster pride and morale. However, he did say at times he felt more a part of a band than the military.
"We would go home at night," he said. "I didn't live in a barracks. I would come to the base, change to my uniform, and go to work. It was a job, but looking back, we had a lot of pride and we knew what the band stands for."
Richards said the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble has quickly become one of the best community groups in southwest Florida.
"From what I can ascertain, this one is far and away above the others," he said.
Jim Bertrand plays the French horn for the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble but he once was a member of the U.S. Air Force's field band at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. He served from 1982-1987.
"I was a music major and I enlisted because they would be paying me to go to school," he said.
He played in a specialized brass quintet.
"The field bands traveled within their area, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina," he said. "Our mission was recruiting and publicity for the Air Force. About 10 times a year we would go on a tour. Those concerts were well attended. We supported ceremonial functions, promotions and funerals. The public relations aspect was very important because it showed the military in a good light. We did the job."
He now owns Bertrand Music Florida in Bradenton.
He is proud the Lakewood Ranch Wind Ensemble is playing at the Tribute to Heroes Parade and at a memorial service at the Sarasota National Cemetery.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know what Memorial Day means, besides a day off," he said.