Edneyville teacher recalls part in D-Day anniversary celebrations in France

REMEMBERING THE FALLEN: Jordan Chambliss participated in the D-Day Memorial Parade in Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy, France. Photo courtesy of Chambliss

Jordan Chambliss wasn’t anticipating the flood of emotions that poured over her on June 6.

A fifth-grade teacher at Edneyville Elementary School, Chambliss was in France as part of the D-Day 80th Anniversary Collegiate Mass Band, a contingent of American musicians helping to commemorate the World War II Allied landings in Normandy. The trip was organized by a nonprofit called Historic Programs.

“There were some people in the band with me that had family members that were deeply involved in World War II, and that wasn’t necessarily the case for me,” says Chambliss, who played piccolo in the band. “So I didn’t expect to be so emotionally affected by it.”

But the enormity of the moment hit Chambliss when she and her bandmates joined with other musicians at the Brittany American Cemetery to perform “Hymn to the Fallen,” a song from the 1998 D-Day epic film Saving Private Ryan.

“Playing that with over a thousand other musicians and hearing the choir singing with us as I’m looking out on this view of 4,000 crosses in front of me was wildly emotional and incredibly meaningful,” she recalls. “It made me feel like I was part of something really, really important.”

Chambliss started her musical journey as a student at Rugby Middle School in Hendersonville. She continued playing at West Henderson High School and was later a band member at Western Carolina University. She represented WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band  during her Historic Programs visit to France.

Chambliss spoke with Xpress about how she got into music, why she decided to join the D-Day band and how her experiences in France affected her.

This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.   

Xpress: How did this opportunity come about?

Chambliss: I found it on Facebook, of all places. About this time last year, there was a college marching band page that shared information about it. [Historic Programs] was essentially doing an all-call for anyone who was either currently in a college marching band or had done it in the past. So I just filled out the interest form and ended up getting accepted, and it all went from there.

What made you want to apply?

I have always wanted to travel more; I had never been outside of the country before. And performing with my instrument is my favorite thing in the world. So I thought there was nothing better than to travel with my instrument and be able to do such an important thing with it. Being able to go across the world and see such an important historical event for World War II and meet some of the people involved with it was something I knew would be a really great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How many performances did you take part in? 

[Historic Programs] put together these three minibands [of about 50 people each], which were based off regions. I was with all people from the Southeast. We were supposed to have three days of performances, but one of them ended up being canceled. We were supposed to perform at the Normandy American Cemetery, but then President Biden wanted to visit the cemetery that day.

On June 6, we performed as a mass band in Brittany American Cemetery. We performed with other music groups that were there in the area for the 80th celebration. And then on June 8, we went to Sainte-Mère-Église [a town in Normandy that was liberated by the Allies]. That’s where we were able to perform with our smaller bands.

We did a little stage performance of some pep tunes, and then later that day we did a parade in the town. It only has a population of 3,000 people, and there were multiple thousands of people there that day. We played this song called “The Longest Day,” which is from the [1962 D-Day] movie The Longest Day, which has scenes in that town. And so that’s a very important song to the people. And we played another called “Chant Des Partisans.” It was almost an unofficial national anthem in France [during World War II].

What other things did you do while you were over there?

We got to do a lot of sightseeing. There were lots of places in France we went to that I absolutely never would have known existed. We went to an area called Bayeux, which was really pretty. We went to a place called Mont-Saint-Michel, which was basically a big cathedral on an island that was built like a thousand years ago. You don’t see stuff that old in the United States.

We stayed in this really, really tiny town called Honfleur, which was three hours away from everything we actually needed to be at. Despite all the driving time it took to get anywhere, I think it was really cool to be able to stay there. We got to see more of the everyday culture in France.

What got you interested in music?

It was kind of like the way I signed up for this trip. Going into middle school, I signed up for band kind of on a whim because they had told us, “This is your one chance to sign up. You can’t join later in school.” And so I kind of had the mindset of “I’ll just try it, and if I don’t like it, I’ll stop.”

And it’s kind of funny, I remember one of my elementary school teachers telling us that she always regretted not doing band because her high school band went to Disney World, and she was always jealous of that. And fifth grade me was like, “I want to go to Disney World, so I’m gonna do band.” All these years later, band has never taken me to Disney World, but it has taken me to a lot of other cool places.

How would you rate the overall experience of being part of the D-Day band?

I’ve come back with a totally different view on a lot of things. I think more than anything, this trip made me very proud of where I live and where I’ve come from. Being able to see these veterans and how proud they are of what they’ve done and being able to celebrate that with them was just so eye-opening.

It’s just never something I had thought about much before, but it made me very proud to be American and to be standing up there with them.



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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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