RALSTON, Neb. –
Just to the south of Omaha is the little suburb of Ralston, also known as Independence City to its nearly 6,500 residents. Tucked into the heart of this quaint city is the lush green Wildewood Park with a natural amphitheater that served as the perfect backdrop June 3, 2023, for the patriotic sounds of the Nebraska National Guard 43rd Army Band’s 75th anniversary concert.
The 43rd Army Band, based in Omaha, is a team of 35 talented Citizen-Soldier musicians under the command of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paul Kenney. Every five years, the band invites alumni members – anyone who ever served with the 43rd Army Band – to return for an anniversary concert and join in performing some of the favorite standards.
“It was an incredible feeling to welcome back the 43rd Army Band's alumni to this performance,” Kenney said. “We have always said that our band is ‘family,’ and it certainly felt like we were welcoming back several members of our family we had not seen in a while.”
Kenney said the bond created through performing music is strong, and it’s a significant moment when alumni perform pieces of music with the band. This year, 30 alumni attended the reunion event and half joined in the concert performance.
One distinguished alumnus in attendance was Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Splichal – the only living member who experienced the birth of the unit. At 99 years old, this former commander of the 43rd Army Band, traveled from Trophy Club, Texas, for the 75th anniversary event where he took to the podium, spoke about the history of the 43rd Army Band and then conducted John Philip Sousa's Golden Jubilee.
“I’m glad to be here,” Splichal said during his remarks before his performance. “We started that band, and it’s been good ever since it was started.”
Splichal shared his story – and the origins of the 43rd Army Band – with the concert attendees.
At age 18, Splichal, a trumpet player, was drafted and served in World War II from March 1943 to January 1946 with the 78th Infantry Division Band. On Dec. 13, 1944, the 78th Infantry Division (including the band) entered combat, fighting in the Rhineland Campaign, the Ardennes-Alsace Campaign, and the Central Europe Campaign. The 78th Infantry Division Band was decorated with a Meritorious Unit Commendation and a streamer embroidered with European Theater. Splichal witnessed many close calls and performed at multiple special occasions throughout Europe during World War II, including playing for General George Patton’s funeral in Heidelberg, Germany.
After leaving active duty in 1946, Splichal attended the University of Nebraska for music education. In 1948, Vernon Forbes – a civilian trombonist and high school teacher in Lincoln – was chosen as the bandmaster for a new Army National Guard band – the 43rd Army Band. Having never served in the military, he approached Splichal and asked him to be his first sergeant. Together they led the 43rd Army Band stateside and overseas when it was activated for the Korean War. The 43rd was the only Nebraska Army National Guard unit, and one of only five bands, called to serve in the Korean War – something Splichal cites as proof of the band’s greatness.
“It's been my pleasure to serve with this band,” Splichal said.
Also during the 75th anniversary concert, the Nebraska Soldiers honored another former bandmaster, the late Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brian Anderson, who died in 2019 after a battle with cancer.
“Any time a member of the 43rd Army Band passes away, their absence is felt for a long while,” Kenney said. “Mr. Anderson was not only an avid musician and bandmaster, but he had a strong presence in Nebraska’s music community.”
Kenney said one of Anderson’s many contributions was to commission band literature from talented composers, both from within the state and far from it.
“Because we weren’t able to have Mr. Anderson join us for our anniversary performance, it seemed fitting to perform one of those commissioned pieces, and Platte River Run’s ties to Nebraska made it all the more suitable,” he added.
The band played Platte River Run, which was commissioned by the Fremont High School Band Program in 1996 by Anderson, who was then the Fremont Director of Bands. The piece – which “pictures pioneers paving the way West” – was composed by Larry MacTaggart, who served with the Heartland of American Band stationed at Offutt Air Force Base and the United States Air Force Band, and who calls Nebraska home.
Toward the end of the concert, the band also honored the newest alumna: flutist Sgt. 1st Class Colleen Jeffrey of LaVista, Nebraska. After 30 years of service with the 43rd Army Band, the 75th anniversary concert was Jeffrey’s final performance in uniform as she officially retires from the Nebraska Army National Guard. Jeffrey is a prime example of the longevity of the senior noncommissioned officers in the unit, with an average tenure of more than 31 years.
The concert band concluded their performance as is tradition with Armed Forces on Parade: the playing of each service’s song asking members of the audience who served in that branch of service to rise and be recognized.
The 43rd Army Band is now looking forward to the rest of their busy summer, including its involvement in the upcoming adjutant general’s retirement and change of command ceremony.
“We have appreciated Major General Daryl Bohac’s leadership, guidance, and support over these years,” Kenney said. “He has been a great supporter of the band’s mission, and we all wish him well in his retirement. We fondly remember Brigadier General Craig Strong from his previous leadership positions in the Nebraska National Guard, and we are excited to help welcome him back as the next adjutant general for the state of Nebraska.”
Additionally, the 43rd Army Band’s Summer Concert Tour begins June 21 and runs through June 30, 2023. The tour will visit Blue Hill, Hastings, Grand Island, Central City, Kearney, Holdrege and York, Nebraska. All concerts are free and open to the public. View the full schedule here: https://ne.ng.mil/Community-Relations/43rd-Army-Band/