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Band of Blackhawks: 75 Years After D-Day
Band of Blackhawks: 75 Years After D-Day
Posted on 06/27/2019
Representing the USA and Buncombe County Schools, the North Buncombe High performed on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.Photos used and edited with permission from a photographer who wished to remain anonymous.

By: Benjamin Rickert
BCS Communications Dept.
The streets of Sainte Mère Église, Normandy, France in June, 2019.As she held her trumpet high and stepped onto the street of Sainte Mère Église in France, North Buncombe High School senior Makenzie Rink noted that it felt about the size of Weaverville, although her hometown usually didn’t usually have a quarter of a million people cheering in the streets.

Sainte Mère Église held a strategic position during the D-Day invasion of Normandy due to its proximity to both Omaha and Utah beaches, and was likely the first town liberated from Nazi control during the famous 1944 invasion of Normandy. Seventy five years later, Rink marched alongside her peers in the Blackhawks marching band in honor of the brave soldiers who fought for its freedom.

Before Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower encouraged them to take heart in their fight to liberate Europe and end Nazi tyranny.

A historic re-enactment of Allied soldiers in uniform during the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France.“The eyes of the world are upon you,” Eisenhower said. “The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

Seventy five years after the great sacrifice was made and Germany’s fall was hastened, the eyes of the world are still upon them. In 2019, hundreds of thousands of citizens from around the world gathered in France on the Battle of Normandy's anniversary to pay their respects to the brave heroes who fought and purchased victory with their lives. Among them, representing the United States, was the marching band of North Buncombe High. It was an opportunity to serve that the students will never forget.

“It was probably the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had,” said Rink, the trumpet section's first chair and section leader. “Being able to represent our country in a way that I truly value - through music - was absolutely amazing.”

The Blackhawks performed at two iconic cemeteries. These included the Brittany American Cemetery in Saint-James where 4,410 soldiers are buried, and the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel - known to be the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches - where about 9,400 graves are placed. During each program, about a dozen groups from around the world performed, military awards were given, mayors spoke, and World War II veterans shared their stories. There were tears and difficult moments of silence.

A WWII veteran places flowers at the grave of a fallen solider.Rink was particularly moved by the veterans who spoke. She recalled one Veteran describing the experience of seeing friend’s names written on the cemetery stones, and remembering details of their lives and last moments.

“That would take a toll on me, and I can’t imagine the toll it has taken on them,” she said. “Not a lot of people in our generation know their stories and it is so important to be able to carry that on.”

At the conclusion of the each cemetery program, all performers - about 3,000 in total - performed one powerful piece in unison. John Williams’ “Hymn to the Fallen” from the film Saving Private Ryan was heard echoing across the beach and countryside.

“It’s so important to remember our connections to the past,” Rink said.

While the tone of the the cemetery performances was somber, the Sainte Mère Église parade was a celebration. North Buncombe band director Mr. Nathan Brown explained that marching bands aren’t a strong part of European culture, so his students were greeted with great enthusiasm as they paraded by playing their fight song and the Big Four march by Karl L. King. He recalled learning that about 250,000 people were stacked on both sides of the road in the small town of only four or five blocks.

North Buncombe High marching band students on the streets of SainteMère Église.“It was maybe a little bigger than Weaverville, and there were people everywhere clapping along, laughing, and dancing,” Rink said, noticing the stark difference in mood from the cemetery performances. “I think it was celebrating the lives of the soldiers and the people who came back to share their stories, and the fact that France was liberated.”

Brown was proud of his North Buncombe community for working together to give the young musicians this historic opportunity. He explained that the students worked diligently to prepare, even memorizing all of their music, and that many individuals, organizations, and local businesses made the trip a success through their generosity and fundraising efforts.

“The opportunity to represent the country on a global scale was incredible,” Brown said. “As a music educator, it’s surreal and empowering to see the power of music and students working together.”

Further reading and coverage:

• The full photo gallery is available on Facebook.

• A video of the Blackhawks marching in Sainte Mère Église has been shared by the Blackhawks band on Facebook.

• Read about the Field of Honor, one of the Blackhawks' 2018 efforts to honor Veterans and raise funds to perform at the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

• Read local media coverage and view additional videos from WLOS and the Weaverville Tribune.

• History fans will enjoy these newspaper articles from the Asheville Citizen reporting on the Normandy invasion in 1944.

• Learn more about the Band of Blackhawks through their Normandy trip website.

Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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