A western Minnesota high school marching band shipped off for Hawaii this past weekend, bound for the 75th anniversary ceremony of the attack on Pearl Harbor, where they will perform as part of an International Mass Band.
Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg High School, located about 15 miles west of Willmar, was chosen last year to represent the state in a tribute concert honoring World War II veterans. Eighty-three students — more than one-third of the rural high school’s population — will play Wednesday alongside 1,000 student musicians from the U.S. and Japan aboard the USS Missouri.
The historic battleship is the site where Japanese forces officially surrendered Sept. 2, 1945.
“These students are really starting to understand the magnitude and responsibility bestowed upon them,” band director Pam Diem wrote on the group’s GoFundMe page, which aimed to curb costs for a trip that cost $2,500 per student.
Intensive fundraising efforts helped collect nearly $200,000 for travel expenses, said Principal Ted Brown. Band boosters, parents and the greater community (1,100 people) garnered donations from corporations, VFW and American Legion halls and bake sales. The coordinated effort made sure no student who wanted to attend was left behind, Brown said.
The KMS Marching Saints, eight-time Class A state champions, began preparing for the trip more than a year in advance. Band members designed parade performances around the WWII theme of “Heroes” this summer, with flag bearers wearing 1940s-inspired dresses and curls. The live demos included re-enactments of the flag raising at Iwo Jima and the famous Times Square kiss on V-J Day.
“Everyone that saw it was just taken aback,” Brown said of the program. “It’s very fun, patriotic and emotional at the same time.”
KMS teachers who stayed behind were dealt a difficult task: keep remaining students engaged without overloading band members with homework before, during or after the trip.
It was an objective that led some instructors to get creative, crafting separate lesson plans specifically for those in Hawaii. One eighth grade science teacher who’d recently begun a section on minerals asked the musicians to write about the island climate and bring back photo or physical evidence of minerals there, Brown said.
“What better hands on experience can they have? You can’t buy that learning and you can’t recreate that here at school,” he said. “This was kind of a no-brainer. It’s a great honor.”
Students landed in Hawaii on Sunday, where they began a historical tour of the island. On Monday, the group visited the Pearl Harbor memorial and the USS Arizona, where a Pearl Harbor survivor awaited their arrival.
His advice to the young musicians: “You must listen to learn,” he said. “You have a lot of life to live.”
Wednesday’s performance will be live-streamed at 4 p.m. central time.