For NJ students taking part in Pearl Harbor memorial, it’s not just about history
WAIKIKI, Hawaii — New Jersey is being represented at the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Monroe Township High School marching band.
It was on Dec. 7, 1941, that Imperial Japan attacked, drawing the United States into World War II. Wednesday, survivors will gather to honor the more than 2,300 service people killed in the raid. Directors Marty Griffin and Alfred Hadinger and 60 members of the band and color guard are marching in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade and learning about the day that will live in infamy on their six day trip.
Another 30 chaperones also made the trip.
The invitation was extended to the Middlesex County band in 2015 by the parade committee, which said students were selected based on their achievements and recommendations from state and local music educators. The Falcon band has performed at Walt Disney World in Orlando three times, at Busch Gardens in Virginia and a variety of competitions and parades, according to Griffin, who said he believes their 2013 state and national marching band championships clinched the invitation to Pearl Harbor.
Their journey to Hawaii began with a big sendoff last Saturday, where state Sen. Linda Greenstein, Monroe Township Mayor Gerald W. Tamburro and school administrators before boarding their plane on Monday morning. Several U.S. military veterans also spoke which made the students aware of the most important reason for their trip.
"At the send off ceremony we had a video presentation that one of the veterans group put together for the kids to see and we had a keynote speaker from the USS New Jersey," Griffin said.
But it was visit to the Arizona memorial that brought it home for the band where they got to see footage from the attack and hear from speakers who were there.
"Yesterday was the biggest eyeopener for them about what this really means and how significant the date is in the history of the country," Griffin said.
Drum major Mitchell Joseph, who considers himself a history buff, said it was a "mind-blowing experience to realize what the sacrifices were that soldiers made for us."
The senior said "I understand that people come to pay their respects in their own way, but having the chance to honor them by playing is a whole new world."
The band's other drum major, Alexa Quarino said of seeing the Arizona still laying in the ocean: "It's one thing to read it in the history books — but actually being there and realizing how real those events were and understanding how many people really died and affected everything" had a huge influence on her.
Dr. Michael G. Kozak, superintendent of the Monroe Township school district said the district's schools have always been supportive of veterans and recognizing their sacrifices. "The fact that our band was invited to go out there and represent New Jersey as being the only band from New Jersey is certainly something we're proud of. T think we have great kids and I know they will represent the school district in a very positive way."
The band performed at the USS Missouri on Tuesday and got some time in at the beach on Wednesday morning before heading to the parade late in the afternoon.
"They've been excited about it for a while and just being here has opened up their eyes quite a bit. It's been a great experience for them," Griffin said.
Before the parade the band will join the US Marine Corps Pacific Band in a mass performance of the “God Bless America” at the official parade opening ceremony.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the name of state Sen. Linda Greenstein.