The Final Notes Have Been Played: 555th Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes Deactivated After 90 Years

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Beth Holliker
  • 180th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Celebrating 90 years of military musical heritage, the 555th Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes performed for the final time during an official deactivation ceremony July 7, 2012.

The band, commonly known as the Triple Nickel, went out on a high note Saturday, as they performed classical, jazz and rock favorites during the official deactivation ceremony at Anthony Wayne High School in Whitehouse, Ohio.

National Guard officials announced in late 2011 that the 555th will officially be deactivated in 2013 as part of an Air Force decision to consolidate Air Force Bands across the country.

"I was very sad to hear the news," said former band member Dale Schubert. "This is such a great organization and it's unreal that these cuts are happening. Music is a part of every life." Schubert played the tuba with the band from 1970-1979.

The band, appreciated throughout the Great Lakes region, dates back to 1923 when it was formed as the Army's 148th Regiment Band. During WWII, the band became known as the 148th Infantry Band and joined forces with other military bands in Ohio to boost troop morale in the Pacific theater. Post-war, the original members of the 148th Infantry Band sought out and received permission from the state of Ohio to stand up the 555th Air Force Band.

Later, the band's area of responsibility grew to include Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia. In 2003 the band was officially renamed the 555th Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes in an effort to better reflect the increased areas of responsibility.

Former band superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Phil Smith explained the band members handled news of the deactivation very professionally. "Our plan is to go out with class," Smith said. "We want the last memories of the 555th to be that we did our best until the end."

Continuing, Smith explained that the 555th's mission is important and unique. "We are in the people business," said Smith. "We are in the business of building support for the military."

Though the impact of the band cannot be translated into statistics or presented on a budget sheet, the overall reach of the 555th can be seen when a crowd is moved to tears, or when veterans of our Armed Forces rise and salute when their service song is played during "Armed Forces Salute," as seen during this final performance.

"It's hard to put a tangible result on what we have accomplished over the years," said Senior Master Sgt. Roselyn Smith, 555th superintendent. "Each of us knows that we have touched hearts and lives in a way that no government or politician can measure."

Mr. James Payes, a trombonist and 41 year veteran of the 555th, remembers his first concert on the grass lawn outside of the courthouse in Grayling, Mich. "This band has done so well," Payes explained. "I put my life into this band."

For band alumni like Payes, the 555th wasn't only a way of life, it was a family tradition. Enlisting in the band in 1953, just two weeks out of high school Payes spent 30 years as the band 1st Sgt. and superintendent before retiring. Payes' son also spent 33 years with the 555th.

Payes and many other retirees and alumni of the 555th shed tears as they joined current band members to close out the concert. Past and present, the entire band family pumped up the crowd as they played all-time favorite patriotic songs including "National Emblem", "America the Beautiful", "Armed Forces Salute" and "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Between now and the official deactivation date in 2013, some members of the 555th will plan for retirement. Others will look for other positions within the Air National Guard. Senior Master Sgt. Roselyn Smith will remain with the band to ensure all details and loose ends are completed, that personnel, instruments and equipment are taken care of. "I will be the one to close and lock the doors on the last day," said Smith.

Though Smith couldn't put this historical day into words, she did say, "When the last instrument gets sent away and we lock our doors for the final time, we will know that, right to the very end, we have exhibited the Air Force Core Values throughout. Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we have done."

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