Raising polished instruments and wearing crisp uniforms, members of the Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes played the familiar notes of "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- the tune they had played so many times before and which they will never play again as a group.
The 555th Air Force Band, known as the Triple Nickel, performed its final concert Saturday at the Anthony Wayne High School auditorium, concluding nearly 90 years of service, including entertainment for the troops and the community. Using a cover to slowly encase the group's emblem on its flag, the band ended its long history of local military musical heritage.
"This band has been more than just military service. For many of us it is a way of life. For all of us, it is where we have found our best friends, family, and home," said Senior Master Sgt. Roselyn Smith, the flutist in the band serving as band superintendent. "When the last instrument is sent away and the door gets locked, I can continue to say, 'Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we have done.' "
Members of the group learned in November that the band was to be deactivated. The action, which affects other bands across the country in what the Air National Guard calls a consolidation, officially takes effect Sept. 30, 2013.
Attached to the 180th Fighter Wing at its Swanton base, the band's service area is Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky. All of the members are National Guardsmen and train one weekend a month plus two weeks each summer.
Toledo lawyer Lorin Zaner was a member of the band for 20 years, retiring from service in 1990.
A pianist and clarinet player, Mr. Zaner said the band has continued its tradition of excellence and that it has been a source of lifelong friends.
"The people were so great that I stayed in for 20 years," he said. "I didn't want to end this part of my life."
According to its history, the 555th Air Force Band dates back to the 1920s in Toledo. Over the years and through several names, the band eventually reorganized as an Air Force band in Toledo, and on June 30, 1948, the 555th Air Force Band was born.
The band was later renamed the Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes.
In recent history, the band has performed not only as a concert band but also as smaller rock and jazz groups.
The combined bands play for more than 300,000 people annually and have traveled to countries including Germany, Hungary, and Spain to perform as well.
Although it won't be officially deactivated until next year, the concert band made up of 32 members played for the last time as a group Saturday afternoon before about 750 people.
"There's quite a history," said Technical Sgt. Angie Webb, who plays the baritone saxophone. "We were all sad and maybe a little angry."
The two-hour concert was a mix of military marches and more recent melodies, including Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and the original score from the movie The Cowboys. The band's rock ensemble had the crowd clapping with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," and the jazz group prompted finger-snapping with Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."
"It was very good," Lucille Hoodlebrink, who along with her son Gary was at the concert to see her granddaughter and grandson-in-law Master Sgt. Carie Cufr and Technical Sgt. Adam Cufr perform. "I enjoyed it."
Robert Strickler and his fiancee, Debbie Snyder, traveled from Indiana for the concert. A band alumnus who played the French horn, Mr. Strickler said he was saddened to see its era end.
He, like other alumni, joined active band members on stage at the end of the show for a final time. The group collectively played four songs, including "America the Beautiful."
"I've had a lot of great memories from this band," he said. "It's a great unit, one big family. It's a sad day."
Brig. Gen. Mark Bartman, assistant adjutant general for air of the Ohio Air National Guard, was among those in attendance. He spoke of the "painful decision" that had to be made when deciding to deactivate the Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes. He asked the audience to stand and applaud the performers and that the band applaud their families and employers who supported their participation.
Some members of the band are officially retiring. Others left to join other bands that have remained active. And still others intend to continue to play locally in small groups -- at least until September, 2013.
"They may put down their instruments as far as the 555th is concerned … but one thing to remember is that they will always have the memories," the general said.
Contact Erica Blake at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.