It was 1955 when I went into the Army. I did my eight weeks of basic training at Ft. Dix, N.J. I was then sent to the First Army Band at Ft. Jay, N.Y. on Governors Island, as promised in my letter of acceptance from the band master. Governors Island is in the New York Harbor close to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. One morning in 1956 they woke us up real early, around 4 a.m., which was unusual. We knew something was happening, but what? They told us to fall in at the dock and get on a boat.
As we got into the boat, we started heading towards the Statue of Liberty. It was close to where we were. We could see the statue from Governors Island. We figured that is where we were going, to Bedloe's Island where the statue was placed. It was as short boat ride. When we got there I saw a lot of military "brass," press and photographers. People were lining up to be near a stage where a podium was placed in the center. We still wondered why they got us up so early. We were rushed into formation and played the "Star Spangled Banner" followed by a few Sousa marches. We played until everyone was seated on the stage in front of the statue. Then the speeches began. I fell asleep.
We did not know why we were there or what was going on. Something woke me up just in time to hear a speech that was being made. As I listened to the speech, I found out that TODAY we were changing the name of Bedloe's Island to Liberty Island by an act of Congress and our band and I became part of History. Bedloe's Island was the sight originally picked by Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the statue because he believed the Island was the "gateway to America."
After a few hours, we were told to get back in the boat and went back to Ft. Jay. I really didn't give it much thought. Many years later I was speaking with my grandson and the Statue of Liberty came up. It popped into my mind, "Hey," I said, "I played for the changing of the name of that island from Bedloe's to Liberty Island." I felt, for the first time, how big a deal it was. I was part of History! I think he was impressed but he didn't show it.
Many years later I got a call from the Governor's Island Historical society to ask if I would make a taped speech of what it was like on Governor's Island when I was in the band. I told this story. They said my tape would be put in the audio history file at Governor's Island. If I visit I could go to the audio file and hear it.