The emotional experiences encountered by students in the Pride of Herndon Marching Band from Herndon High School not only impacted them but crossed land and sea. The teen's experience and words will touch a nearly 300 World War II sailors who served aboard the U.S.S. HERNDON (638) or if deceased, their families, according to Margaret Jamborsky, Band Historian. The teens who attend Herndon High School represented the United States in a memorial parade and public ceremonies to recognize the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France.
Through honor tags, battle-worn fabric and handwritten letters, members of Herndon High School Marching Band forged intimate ties to sailors who served on the destroyer bearing the same name as their high school. U.S.S. HERNDON (638) was one of nearly 7000 naval vessels that took part in Operation Neptune, the naval component of Operation Overlord when Allied Forces launched a combined assault on Nazi-occupied France. Vessels escorted and landed ground troops on the Normandy beaches, carried out bombardments on German coastal defenses and provided artillery support for invading troops. During the weeks and months after D-Day June 6, 1944, Allied Forces liberated German-held villages throughout Normandy, marking the beginning of liberation of Nazi-held Europe.
FAST-FORWARD to the D-Day events 2019 and the Brittany American Cemetery located outside the town of St. James, France. There, as part of a mass band made up of nine bands from across the United States, Pride of Herndon performed and honored more than 4,000 American World War II service members interred there. Afterward, Pride of Herndon assembled for a group photo in front of the Brittany Chapel. Front and center with the students stood United States D-Day veteran, James E. Clermont, 94, of Minnesota, who served aboard the U.S.S. HERNDON during the assault. Clermont and members of his family accompanied the band to Normandy. All around Clermont stood the teenage band members from Herndon High School.
For Herndon High School band member Allen Truong, meeting the only U.S.S. HERNDON sailor who made the trip to Normandy, was an emotional experience. “Upon meeting Mr. Clermont, my heart was filled with feelings of patriotism and the realization that I had the opportunity, to not only meet but represent and honor one of the last men who were willing to give up everything to save the world from tyranny," he said.
While in Normandy, three Herndon High School band members donned the original dress blues from sailors on the U.S.S. HERNDON and held the American flag that flew on the destroyer. It was the first Stars and Stripes to fly over German-occupied land according to Margaret Jamborsky, band historian.
For Pride of Herndon band member Alli Baez, the experience of wearing one of the uniforms pushed her to 1944 and moved her to tears. "When I put on the uniform, the feeling of bravery and strength of the men who fought brought tears to my eyes. ... It brought to mind my peers, who aren't much younger than the soldiers, and helped me understand how the soldiers might have felt, sailing into Normandy 75 years ago, scared and nervous, but proud to represent our amazing country," said Baez.
For band member Kacey Hillebrand, being in Normandy may have been touching, "but being in a U.S.S. HERNDON sailor's uniform, holding the original flag from the ship, gave the stories we heard something tangible and gave me an overwhelming sense of pride and honor," she said.
According to Jamborsky, each Herndon band member clipped two honor tags to the shoulders of their marching uniforms. Each tag showed a photograph with the name and rank of a U.S.S. HERNDON sailor on the front and his short bio on the back. Before the trip, the sailors had been matched to individual band members through a pairing survey based on similarities, said Jamborsky. She added that each student had been given a packet with everything learned about “their sailor” such as military and death records, photos, copies of journals, newspaper stories and such to help the student see D-Day through the sailor's eyes.
ON THEIR FLIGHT HOME over the Atlantic Ocean, emotions still raw, students penned letters, not emails, to their sailors, or if deceased, the sailors' families. In the letters, the students shared their experiences in Normandy, expressed gratitude and honored the veterans who fought for freedom an ocean away, in service of the United States.
One letter to the family of D-Day veteran Rene Begin who served aboard the U.S.S. HERNDON read: "It was an honor to keep the memory of your father, Rene Begin, in Normandy on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. … He had to be so strong to leave his life, friends, job, dreams and family to fight for us."
Another student wrote, "I have been wearing your father's honor tag; it was truly one of my life's best experiences. … I am the grandson of a
D-Day, June 6, 1944, & U.S.S. HERNDON (638)
"Proceeding as A/E boat and A/S screen for Assault Force UTAH… This unit with U.S.S. SHUBRICK astern entered boat lane ahead of… U.S.S. HOBSON, U.S.S. CORRY AND U.S.S. FITCH and ahead of first assault wave…0710… U.S.S. CORRY…reported hit by fire from enemy battery…0730 U.S.S. CORRY sunk… U.S.S. FITCH observed to be standing by to pick up survivors…0735 This ship and U.S.S. SHUBRICK under fire from enemy shore battery Number T40. 0741…Expended 53 rounds of…common ammunition. Enemy battery silenced."
— Declassified document by NDC, U.S.S. HERNDON (638), Narrative of Operations during the assault on Normandy, June 6, 1944
Holocaust survivor. … Your father could never have known the millions of people he was helping, but as one of the very people he was helping, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I want you to know, when I went up and gave my speech, I held two things to help me keep comfort, my Star of David, and your father's honor tag."
Jamborsky said in the coming weeks, each honor tag sailor or his family would receive the handwritten letter by the band member who wore that service member's tag in Normandy. In addition, each would receive photos of "their band member" wearing the tag, and a small bag of sand from Utah Beach, tokens of tribute to D-Day heroes crossing an ocean, generation and time.