By Katie Callahan (Courtesy photo)
When the Alexandria Harmonizers arrived in France to help mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the musical act brought a group of World War II veterans with them, in a manner of speaking.
Along with their luggage and equipment, the Harmonizers have with them a photograph taken on Armed Forces Day. In it, members of the singing group pose with 26 members of the greatest generation.
The veterans had no idea how far that image would travel.
“We’re taking that with us to the beaches of Normandy, so they can be part of the experience, even though they can’t make the trip themselves,” said Terry Reynolds, president of the Alexandria Harmonizers.
The group is one of a few musical acts to represent the United States in the massive undertaking to commemorate the anniversary. Organizers expect the tribute will draw more than 1.2 million people, including many veterans of what is known as “The Longest Day.”
The Harmonizers’ musical director Joe Cerutti called the opportunity an honor, but knowing it likely will be the last milestone anniversary many living D-Day veterans can attend makes it that much more important to the musical group.
“While it will be extremely emotional for us to share the stage with all of the veterans in attendance, we are equally motivated to perform in honor of all of the living veterans who could not make the journey, and those who lost their lives during those historic events,” Cerutti said.
June 6, 1944 saw Allied forces make their first push into Nazi-occupied Europe. Thousands of soldiers waded ashore along the Normandy coast, joining those who already had parachuted into France in what Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called “a great crusade.” The list of Allied casualties would rise to 9,000 before the beaches were secured.
The Harmonizers were chosen to participate after receiving a recommendation from the mayor of Sainte-Mere-Eglise — the first town liberated by the Allies.
Between today and Saturday, the chorale is performing at the Brittany American Cemetery in Normandy, marching in the D-Day parade in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and singing at France’s Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.
As the Alexandria chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, the Harmonizers will perform as many as 20 songs, including a medley of patriotic music, military songs and popular music from the 1940s, some of which will be choreographed.
The group’s members are paying their own way to Normandy, with 100 singers traveling overseas for the event. They will be joined by what Reynolds calls his “special forces,” guest singers who have agreed to bolster the Harmonizers’ ranks.
Allan Vanson, the former president of the National Barbershop Harmony Society, is one of those people. He traveled from New England a few times a month to rehearse with the Harmonizers in the lead up to the anniversary.
While the Harmonizers have performed in a variety of reputable venues, Reynolds said this series of performances is a one-of-a-kind opportunity.
“This one is very different just because of the purpose and honor, the ability to take part in honoring our veterans and the greatest generation,” Reynolds said. “We feel it’s a tremendous honor representing our hometown and the United States and the Barbershop Harmony Society.”
Along with the performances in Normandy, the group will put on two concerts in Paris and hold a final show in Cologne, Germany, alongside a barbershop chorus from that country.
Mayor Bill Euille lauded the Harmonizers at a May city council meeting, congratulating them as ambassadors representing the Port City as well as the United States.
“We all know that they are an outstanding vocal group and they will represent us very, very well over there and at the D-Day ceremonies [and] bring a lot of pride to us back here in Alexandria,” Euille said.
City Councilor John Chapman also will be in France to take part in the events as an invited delegate. He will be joined by the chair of the Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities committee, Jennifer Reading.