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Band belatedly honored for its WWII service

Soldiers survived sinking of ship

Toby Talbot/Associated Press

An old yearbook shows the Vermont National Guard’s 40th Army Band, which shipped out to the South Pacific.

MONTPELIER - They headed off to war more than 70 years ago with their tubas, clarinets, oboes, and drums, but the 31 musicians in the Vermont National Guard also saw combat.

Now, the unit has finally received recognition for its service after surviving the famous sinking of their troop ship and participating in some of the most important battles in the Pacific during World War II.

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Last week, the Vermont National Guard’s 40th Army Band formally received the battle streamers it earned the last time the unit was called to war. The Brattleboro-based band was activated in February 1941

None of the soldier-musicians who survived the October 1942 sinking of the SS President Coolidge were at the State House Wednesday for the ceremony.

The band is now recognized for the Northern Solomon Campaign and the Battle of Luzon and was awarded the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.

“It’s meant a lot to the people in the unit,’’ said band member Sergeant Brett Goertemoeller, 32, of Fairfax, a 10-year guard and band veteran who dug out the records used to claim the awards. “Our band has always been big on our history and our heritage.’’

During World War II, the band’s job was to play at military functions as needed, but they were soldiers first and band members second.

The records Goertemoeller found showed that the 31 World War II members won two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and 26 Purple Hearts given to soldiers wounded in battle. He said that as far as he knew, none died during their service.

It is unclear if any of the World War II soldiers are still alive.

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