Dimon Kendrick-Holmes

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Then it's Hi! Hi! Hey!

While watching Friday's change of command, I remembered how much I enjoy listening to Army music, especially when played by Fort Benning's Maneuver Center of Excellence Band, which is, well, excellent.

During the ceremony, outgoing commander Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster and his boss, Lt. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, referred to the band as "awesome," and incoming commander Maj. Gen. Scott Miller called it "superb."

The praise was warranted. The Army doesn't take infantrymen and try to turn them into tuba players. It hires professional musicians and shows them how to wear a uniform and march around a parade field.

During his farewell speech Friday morning, McMaster called Fort Benning "a living historical community" and said the MCoE band plays a critical role in that mission.

He's right, of course.

Before the invention of radios, the playing of the band was used to signal soldiers in the field. It would also fire up troops entering battle.

Today, the Army band stirs nostalgia in those of us who've spent long hours standing at parade rest -- and then at attention, and then at parade rest, and then at attention -- on sprawling fields during countless military ceremonies.

On Friday, the band played "Stars and Stripes Forever," the official national march of the United States.

John Philip Sousa wrote it on Christmas Day in 1896 while sailing home from a European vacation. He was feeling homesick and started reminiscing about his days as director of the U.S. Marine Band.

He wrote these lyrics to go with the tune:

"Hurrah for the flag of the free./May it wave as our standard forever/The gem of the land and the sea,/The banner of the right.

"Let despots remember the day/When our fathers with mighty endeavor/Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,/That by their might and by their right/It waves forever."

Beautiful words. It's a shame that when people hear Sousa's march today, they think instead of this: "So be kind to your web-footed friends/For a duck may be somebody's mother"

Friday's change of command ended as all Army ceremonies do, with the band playing and everybody singing a song originally penned by a lieutenant named Edmund Gruber in 1908 in the Philippines.

He called it "The Caisson Song," and in 1917 Sousa turned it into a march and renamed it "The Field Artillery Song." Gruber eventually became a brigadier general. By 1956, instead of caissons rolling along, the entire Army was rolling along, and it had become the official song of the Army:

"Then it's Hi! Hi! Hey!/The Army's on its way./Count off the cadence loud and strong;/For where'er we go,/You will always know/That the Army goes rolling along."

Good stuff.

But most of the songs I heard in the Army weren't accompanied by a professional band -- they were the jodies sung by sergeants while we marched or ran in formation.

Like this: "I used to drive a Cadillac,/Now I pack it on my back./It won't be long,/Till I get on back home."

Or: "They say that in the Army,/The chow is mighty fine./A chicken jumped off the table/And started marching time."

A sergeant with a darker sense of humor might say, instead of marching time, that the "chicken jumped off the table and killed a friend of mine."

Whatever gets you through it, right?

And the MCoE band does a great job of doing just that. Wish they could be everywhere, all the time, accompanying everything.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com.