Submitted story by Ronald P. May
Military service has many sounds. Boots striking the pavement as formations march in perfect step. Platoon leaders shouting out cadences. Weapons popping from the firing range.
But to John Richardson of Thorntown who served in the United States Marine Corps Band in the 1960s, the sounds of military service were quite different. His service was marked mostly by the sounds of music.
And they are the same sounds that have marked his life since then.
Born on Aug. 6, 1941 in Fort Wayne, Richardson began piano lessons at the age of 5.
“I knew I was going to be a musician from early on,” he recalled.
Following his graduation from Fort Wayne South High School in 1959, he enrolled at the prestigious Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. He completed a Bachelor’s of Music in 1963 with a concentration in French horn and Piano.
He was accepted into a Master’s degree program in music at Northwestern University, where he graduated in 1964.
During his senior year at Eastman School of Music he had written to all of the service bands to see if there were any openings. A year later he received a letter from the Marine Corps Band stating that there was an opening with the French horn.
He traveled to Washington D.C. for his auditions. And on June 10, he was offered and accepted a position in the Marine Corps Band.
Although they didn’t train for combat, the band members did have arduous duty and long days. Band rehearsals were every morning and concerts and other events were in the afternoons and evenings.
The Marine Corps Band, which consisted of 100 members, typically performed about 1,350 times a year. Each Marine played two-to-three times a day.
Band duty consisted of national tours, official government events, public concerts and funerals.
National tours took place from Labor Day until Thanksgiving every year.
“It was grueling,” recalled Richardson. Each day of the tour involved a long bus ride of 4-6 hours and then an afternoon concert for students. The long day capped off with a two-hour formal evening concert.
Playing for official government events was another Marine Corps Band duty. White House dinners, bill signings, inaugurations, First Lady’s Teas, arrival ceremonies for heads of state, all included music performed by the Marine Corps Band.
Playing at military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery was another official duty for the Marine Corps Band. As it was the Vietnam era, Richardson remembered there being many funerals for service members who died in combat.
He also played for the funerals of two presidents: Herbert Hoover in 1964 and Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969.
Richardson served in the Marine Corps Band from 1964 – 1970. During those six years he played for the inaugurations and the White House Dinners for two presidents: Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
“You froze to death in January, but they were special,” he said of the presidential inaugurations.
Richardson’s favorite place to play was the White House state dinners.
“You were a part of history,” he recalled.
In 1970 he had fulfilled his initial commitment and decided not to re-enlist.
“I had decided to devote my life to two areas: teaching music to children and adults and serving as a church musician,” recalled Richardson.
He has been doing both ever since, mostly in churches as organist and choir director.
Although he retired in 2007, every Sunday you will still find him on an organ bench either at Hoosier Village Retirement Community in Zionsville, where he has regularly played two Sundays a month the last 8 years, or Trinity Lutheran Church in Lebanon where he has been playing the other two Sundays a month for the last seven years.
All together he has been serving as a church musician for more than 40 years.
His more recent music love has been serving as director of the Zionsville Concert Band for the last 15 years. The band is his pride and joy.
“I consider music a gift of God and I want to impart as much as I can to the people I work with,” he said.
Imparting music has been a life-long career for Richardson. He has done it in the Marine Corps. He has done it in several churches. He has done it in the Boone County community.
And the sounds of his music continue today.
Ronald P. May, USN (Ret.), is Chaplain at Hoosier Village Retirement Community and author of the book, “Our Service, Our Stories.” He helps veterans share and preserve the stories of their military service. For more information or to tell your story, contact May at 317-435-7636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Facebook at Our Service, Our Stories.