Greatest Generation continues to inspire: BFA students hear of service, longing for home

Current BFA band director Eric Bushey read aloud some of the letters local soldiers fighting in World War II sent Sterling Weed, BFA’s original band director pictured here. (FILE PHOTO)

ST. ALBANS — During World War II, graduates of Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans wrote letters to Sterling Weed, their former band teacher. He kept them, and during BFA’s annual band awards night, current band director Eric Bushey shared some of those letters with students.

There was a common theme in many of the letters, Bushey said, in “the longing for home and specifically their longing to play music with their friends once again.

“Although Mr. Weed’s responses to these letters weren’t there in the museum I could tell that Mr. Weed was giving updates on band membership, the new tunes they were playing, and how life in St. Albans was in their absence.”

Bushey quoted a letter from Homer Burnell, one of Weed’s favorite pupils. He wrote: “Rodney tells me that you have opened your Dance Pavillion at Carmi. Don’t I wish that I could be there eating hot dogs and trying to hit a note now and then that didn’t sound too bad. Those were the good old days, weren’t they?” 

In a later letter, dated November 11, 1942, he wrote “…what a day this is! The wind is blowing hard and the sun is shining. It reminds me of the weather back in the old north woods. Looks nice and warm out but when you go outside finally – you freeze your cans. Well, I suppose the old band is out today. I wish I was with them. I miss my playing… Now and then on Saturday mornings I get my horn out and play over some of the old tunes. It’s a lot of fun.” 

Homer didn’t come home to play the old tunes once again. He died at the Battle of the Bulge on January 17, 1945. 

“Other letters tell of ‘shaking off this little injury I sustained at D-Day so I can get home and join the band again’ or ‘can’t I just wait to see the folks dance when you count the band off again Mr. Weed,’” Bushey said.

“What this longing for home and music, all this tells to me is that we sometimes don’t really know what we have until it is gone. These young men and women knew this reality all too well – they were, in fact, wondering if both their music and even their lives would be taken from them forever at any point. Many of them, like Homer Burnell, never did make it back to St. Albans. It is my hope that the power of their longing for both might inspire us to not take our talents for granted,” Bushey told his students.

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