One Ormond Beach resident reminisces about his days in the top military band.
When Matthew Simmons first auditioned for the United States Army Band Pershing’s Own, he didn’t get his hopes up. Still in college with dreams of being a band director, Simmons thought playing in front of the highest-level military band could provide some invaluable experience for his education. What he didn’t expect it to provide was a job.
Now known as Dr. Matthew Simmons, chairman of music at Bethune-Cookman University, has 20 years of playing the tuba for the presidential band and meeting four of our nation’s leaders under his belt. The college kid who didn’t think the military was for him is now a veteran — and very proud of it.
“I played for Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton,” Simmons said with a wide grin on his face. “It was beautiful, unbelievable.”
Of the 100 or so Army bands, the 215-members of Pershing’s Own are considered the top musicians in the military. Simmons said though everyone was different, his fellow band members all shared one thing in common.
“People love it,” he said. “People who play in a band don’t necessarily love it, but on that military level people really love what they do.”
Simmons will be bringing 10 of his students to perform at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum’s annual Veterans Day Event. Susan Richmond, director of the museum, said honoring those who served is important because they are essential in keeping our creative freedom.
“People wonder why the art museum is so interested and supportive of veterans,” she said. “It’s a little bit of an unusual pairing, but when the museum was founded in 1946, it was found as a tribute to creative freedom and all those who defend it.”
Mayor Ed Kelley will also be in attendance to support a group of people who are integral to the community.
“Without veterans where we would be?” he asked. “I think the important part is that we continue to remember why veterans are important. We should never forget that and always be mindful of veterans and the sacrifices they made.”
Though he recognizes the impact all veterans have made, there’s one in particular that has always had a big impact on him personally: his father, who was a prisoner of war.
“He was captured a fews weeks after D-Day in France, July 1944,” he said. “He was wounded and captured as part of a scouting expedition. He never talked about it. He didn’t want to talk about it.”
Mayor Kelley admitted he got choked up the first time he talked about it at one the museum’s past events.
“That’s the price he paid trying to protect out freedom,” Kelley said. “Others have had their lives taken. I also had really good high school buddy that went into the Vietnam War and was killed. Those kind of things hurt. I just don’t think enough young people get it. There isn't enough interest on taking care of veterans, and the way they are treated is a shame.”
Though he’s thankful for the career he’s had, Simmons said there was a time when he though he would never join the Army.
“There was a time I said I would never join the Army,” he said. “It was too rigid, too routine. I figured life would be better without all that, but I got in and I was happy. To think I did 20 years in the Army is crazy. I never would have pictured it. I didn’t think I was ready for it, but I was.”
If you go
- What: Annual Veterans Day Tribute
- When: 11 a.m., Nov. 11
- Where: Ormond Memorial Art Museum, 78 E. Granada Blvd.
- Call: 676-3347