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North Dakota American Legion State Band celebrates 100 years of history

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North Dakota American Legion State Band celebrates 100 years of history


The history of military music and bands has been a part of the North Dakota American Legion since 1919. Nearly a dozen drum and bugle corps were scattered throughout the state with two of the earliest coming out of Williston and Jamestown. The music has been continuous for the North Dakota American Legion State Band that has survived, thrived and is going strong in its 100th year in 2024.

The history of the North Dakota American Legion State Band goes back to when a group of World War 1 veteran Legionnaires took a volunteer band to St. Paul, Minn., wearing their Army uniforms. They slept in tents in the snow and represented North Dakota at the 1924 American Legion national convention.

The original band stemmed primarily from the former 164th Infantry Band (1st North Dakota National Guard) that served on the Mexican Border in 1916 and in Europe in World War I, and reorganized after returning home. The first band officers were from Lisbon, N.D. – William Jones, president; A. Galbreath, vice president; Albert “Abbie” Andrews, director; and Walter G. Curtis, secretary-treasure.

The first band manager was Walter Curtis who also was the first Department of North Dakota commander from 1925-1926; succeeding him was Ken Fitch from 1927-1963; William Sweeney Jr. from 1964-1975; Orlyen Stensgard from 1975-1989; and present manager is Bruce Holtan who was appointed in 1989. Directors were Abbie Andrews from 1924-1928; Lois Wright in 1928; Arnold Forbes from 1929-1947; charter band member Edmond “Shave” Green from 1947 until his death in 1975; Donald Piehl from 1976 until his death in 200; and the current director is Glen Wolf.

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Under the management of Ken Fitch, the band became the first musical unit in the United States known to use a female out in front of the band introducing what is known today as the majorette. The first majorette in 1927 was Miss Harriet Phillips of Fargo. The last use of majorettes was in the late 1970s.

The band was recognized by World War 1 Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing as the “Livest Band in the World”.  Music continues to be a great way to honor our country and touches veterans’ memories and celebrates their time in the service. The band has appeared at every Department of North Dakota convention since 1925 with the exception of the World War II years when conventions were severely curtailed, and 2020 when the convention was cancelled due to COVID concerns. The band has appeared at 39 American Legion national conventions where past performances included marching in the convention parades, playing big band dances for the TriStack reception sponsored by North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, and playing at the Four Corners reception. In 2007, the band was recognized as the National Champion Marching Band at the national convention in Reno, Nev., and again at the 2014 National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

The role of the North Dakota American Legion State Band has evolved over the years with appearances not only at department conventions and winter conferences, but also national conventions. The band has provided music to many prominent Legionnaires and participated in the:

– 1941 homecoming of newly-elected National Commander Lynn Stambaugh of Fargo, N.D.

– 1951 inauguration of Thomas Whelan of St. Thomas, N.D., as U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua.

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– 1957 inauguration of John Davis, a past department commander from McClusky, N.D., as governor of North Dakota.

– Ken Fitch Appreciation Day during the 1963 state legislative assembly when the longtime band manager’s colleagues in the House of Representatives wanted to recognize his service.

– January 1965 state legislative session in honor of longtime Department Adjutant Jack Williams.

– 1966 election and installation of former Gov. Davis as National American Legion commander in Washington, D.C.

– 1988 election and installation of North Dakota Supreme Court Justice and past Department Commander H.F. “Sparky” Gierke of Watford City and Bismarck as national commander in Louisville, Ky.

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The music provided by the North Dakota American Legion State Band invokes memories of the Legionnaires time in the military. Performing military service songs or a favorite march, the reason for music continues to be ceremonial, tradition and Esprit de Corps.

The annual department convention in June continues to provide an opportunity to share music throughout the weekend before the joint sessions and for the Auxiliary, music for past department commanders dinner and ballyhooing in the community where the convention is held. The music continues into the evening with the “Dance Band” providing music after the convention banquet for their listening and dancing pleasure.

In 1982, the band participated in the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  A return trip was made in 1995 to help dedicate the Korean War Memorial. And in 2004, the North Dakota American Legion State Band was the only Legion band to participate in the dedication ceremonies for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The band was very busy for this dedication, playing a concert on the National Mall and at the Smithsonian, and marching in the annual Memorial Day parade. With the versatility of the band, a performance at the National American Legion Association VIP reception was performed by the Dance Band. The World War II dedication was made even more special by the introduction of the band’s performing World War II veterans – Don Loder of Cooperstown, N.D.; Ed Koshney of Cando, N.D.; Kermit Rosendahl of Fairmount, N.D.; Elmer Buckhaus of Hankinson, N.D.; and Leo Ehli of Lidgerwood, N.D.

Membership in the band has included veterans from World War I (the last charter member passing away after 66 years with the band), World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraq and also includes generational family members and members of the Sons of The American Legion and the Auxiliary. The average years of service of the current band is 20 years and currently ranges as high as 53 years of service. This demonstrates the dedication of our membership in support of The American Legion music programs.

The North Dakota American Legion State Band has much to celebrate and is proud of what has been accomplished. Dedication and recognition to the Legion was evident when past member Don Loder of Cooperstown, N.D., was honored as Legionnaire of the Year and provided taps for over 500 veterans; and past member Lynn Schroeder was awarded the State Legion Press Award. To preserve the sound of the band, recordings of marching band music were completed with the second recording titled “On Parade and More”.  The band also had two recording opportunities for dance band music – “20 Guys from North Dakota” and a few years later “America the Beautiful – North Dakota Style”. 

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The North Dakota American Legion State Band is excited to continue the legacy that began in 1924 by performing at the 2024 National Convention in New Orleans to top off our 100th year.

Band announcer Cathy Keogh and Bruce Holtan, band manager, are members of American Legion Gilbert C. Grafton Post 2 in North Dakota. 

 





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South Dakota

Defense secretary orders review of Wounded Knee Massacre medals • South Dakota Searchlight

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Defense secretary orders review of Wounded Knee Massacre medals • South Dakota Searchlight


The medals awarded to soldiers who participated in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre will be subjected to a review, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Wednesday.

The department said the review’s purpose is “to ensure no awardees were recognized for conduct inconsistent with the nation’s highest military honor.”

The move comes after years of activism by Lakota people — including descendants of massacre survivors — who want the medals rescinded. 

Oliver “OJ” Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has been active in the effort with his wife, Barb, and their Four Directions nonprofit. He said it’s gratifying to see some momentum after a long struggle, including failed attempts to rescind the medals through congressional legislation.

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“This issue is moving right now, and there are a lot of people involved in it,” Semans said. “We’re all trying to get to the same conclusion, and that’s justice for the descendants.”

We’re all trying to get to the same conclusion, and that’s justice for the descendants.

– Oliver ‘OJ’ Semans, Rosebud Sioux Tribe member

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The memorandum ordering the review is from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He directed his undersecretary of defense and personnel readiness to convene a panel of five experts, including two from the Department of the Interior. The panel must send a written report to Austin no later than Oct. 15 with recommendations and rationale to retain or rescind each of the medals. Austin will then provide his recommendations to the president.

The department said “approximately 20” soldiers received a Medal of Honor for participating in the massacre. Historians have noted that the records associated with some of the medals are incomplete or unclear.

In a news release, the Defense Department attributed comments to “a senior defense official” who said “it’s never too late to do what’s right.”

“And that’s what is intended by the review that the secretary directed,” the official said, “which is to ensure that we go back and review each of these medals in a rigorous and individualized manner to understand the actions of the individual in the context of the overall engagement.”

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The massacre occurred on Dec. 29, 1890. Lakota people were camped near Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, where they were surrounded by hundreds of Army soldiers. A shot rang out while the soldiers tried to disarm the camp, and chaotic shooting ensued.

Fewer than 40 soldiers were killed (some by friendly fire, according to historians), while estimates of Lakota deaths ran from 200 to 300 or more, depending on the source. After some of the bodies froze on the ground for several days, a military-led burial party dumped them into a mass grave.

The politics and racism of the day influenced the Army’s decision to support medals for some of the soldiers, even though Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles condemned the massacre. He led the Division of the Missouri, which included the soldiers who were responsible for the incident.

“I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than at Wounded Knee,” Miles wrote in an 1891 letter that’s now held in an archive at Yale.

 

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South Dakota

Noem, others urge Congress to pass legislation on tribal child support

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Noem, others urge Congress to pass legislation on tribal child support


Gov. Kristi Noem is joining other state governors urging Congress to pass the Strengthening State and Tribal Support Act.

Supporters of the bill say it would provide tribes with direct access to tax refund offsets to utilize in child and family support. It also gives broader contract access to federal tax information.

Currently, direct access to federal tax information by tribal support programs is prohibited.

Noem signed the letter asking for the change along with a bipartisan group of 20 other state governors.

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South Dakota

Ag Education Camp carries on South Dakota’s #1 industry

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Ag Education Camp carries on South Dakota’s #1 industry


HURON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) – A major industry for South Dakota is agriculture. One part of the Farmer’s Union’s mission is to prepare youth to carry on the agricultural heritage of the state.

Early morning is very quiet at the Farmer’s Union Agricultural Industry Camp, but not for long. Nearly 30 children, up to age 12, start their day with a gathering around the flag pole for songs and a flag raising.

Education Specialist Samantha Bowman, who is the lead, shares the mission of this Farmer’s Union-backed camp.

“We’re hoping that it leads them down a path within the agriculture industry especially, but just leadership in general. It’s important for them to realize that even at such a young age that they do have a voice and that their voice has room at the table as we see the generations continue on,” said Bowman.

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Much of the time at the camp is spent on education slanted toward the ag industry.

“There’s a lot of education behind what we do, but we try to do it all hands-on. So, kids are learning, but they’re having fun at the same time. So when they go home to tell their parents how much fun they had, they’re really telling their parents everything that they learned,” said Bowman.

Among other things, campers learn about co-ops, retail, handling money and animal science. Cadence Konechna, one of the current counselors, started as a camper herself. We asked what the most rewarding part of her position is.

“Watching kids go from being like, socially, they don’t want to participate in anything, they’re hiding in the corner, to having a large friend group and being in the center of everything and then having a huge smile on their face,” said Konechna.

The program has been going on since the 1930s.

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