"Wildcat" musicians visit Columbia, S.C. VA hospital
May 18, 2010
<b>COLUMBIA, S.C. </b>- On May 15, visitors to the William Dorn Veteran Affairs Medical Center were greeted with an extra helping of musical cheer by an unannounced performance from the "Wildcats" of the 208th Army Reserve Band.
Kicking off the Armed Forces Day weekend, which celebrated current and past heroes, more than 30 members of the Concord, N.C.-based band spent over an hour playing a mixture of patriotic tunes and toe-tapping popular songs.
Patients came from all corners of the hospital on crutches, in wheelchairs and on the arms of loved ones to listen to sounds of the 81st Regional Support Command band. Music filled hallways and elevators of the medical center, located just minutes from Fort Jackson, S.C.
"This is an incredible honor to be allowed to play for our heroes here at the veterans' hospital," said Spc. Donte Robinson, a French horn player who is a music major at North Carolina A&T State University, "These veterans have given so much for our country that I will never completely understand or comprehend. They have fought in the trenches in miserable conditions and seen their buddies killed."
Robinson, a Charlotte, N.C., resident, said the band's performance at the hospital hopefully brought smiles and helped veterans forget about those difficult times in their past.
"Really, I want them to understand that we haven't forgotten them, and hopefully after we leave, they will remember today as a moment when Army Reserve Soldiers walked into these hallways and played patriotic music that made their feet tap and hands clap," he said.
As the lobby filled quickly with visitors, hospital staff maneuvered wheelchairs through the packed foyer to find the few remaining spots with a good view of the "Wildcat" Soldiers.
The best seats in the lobby were filled shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of elderly couples who were walking out the door but stopped as a group of Soldiers shook their hands and thanked them for their service.
After a 10-minute conversation, the visitors changed their plans and found front-row seats near the small percussion section.
One couple in their early 80s held hands while tapping out the rhythm with their toes.
For one brief moment, she noticed his ear-to-ear smile and leaned over to give him a quick kiss on the cheek, then straightened his Veterans of Foreign Wars baseball cap sporting dozens of small lapel pins of all shapes and sizes.
Shortly afterwards, the elderly man pushed his hat back on his head, only to have his wife nudge his shoulder to cue him to put his arm around her as she placed the small bag of medicine in her purse -- a sign their plans changed and were staying for the entire performance.
Nearby, Spc. Becky Barman, a flute player from Matthews, N.C., was glancing over the crowd and smiled when she noticed a wheelchair-assisted patient ask for a nurse's help to stand up and salute the band.
As the nurse patted his shoulder to sit back down, the man slowly saluted the Reserve Soldiers and sang along with another patient to "God Bless America."
"I grew up playing music, and this is my passion," said Barman. "Who could ask for more than to get paid to do something you love and play for our veterans. I really love my job. The Army Reserve has given some great opportunities and memories I will have for a lifetime."
Nearing the end of the band's performance, Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Lyden, the unit bandmaster, introduced a special conductor.
Maj. Gen. Bill Gerety, the 81st RSC commanding general, accepted the impromptu opportunity to lead the band through a patriotic melody for the veterans, their family members and hospital staff.
"You got to love it," Gerety said the next day about his new found skills of conducting a military band and playing at the VA medical center. "It was an awesome opportunity for the Army Reserve, the 81st RSC and the 208th Army Reserve Band. Every Soldier needs to visit their local veterans and listen to their stories of heroism."
As hospital staff made their way to the main lobby to better hear the music echoing around the building, Priscilla Creamer, the center's voluntary service officer, said the hospital gets hundreds of requests each year from people wanting to make a veteran's day better.
From NASCAR drivers to Hollywood stars, Creamer said there has always been one group that gets patients excited - the American service member.
"Our veterans really respond to the military," she said. "It takes them back to a time when they were active, when they were serving our country and it helps them put their lives in perspective and realize their service is of value."