A Lesson in Humility and Meritocracy Marine Style

By Ed Timperlake

Col. John R Bourgeous USMC (ret) has just had his autobiography published: Play On! A Marine’s Musical Journey from the Bayou to the White House.

Colonel Bourgeois was the twenty-fifth Director of the Marine band, known as the President’s Own.  Since its founding with the birth of our country, there have only been twenty eight directors including the legendary John Phillip Sousa. As he points out in his autobiography.  the Marine Band is the oldest musical organization of any type in the United States.

He noted: “The Director of the Marine Band is the music advisor to the white House…. He is the authority regarding proper ceremonial music and protocol for state occasions and other ‘in house’ activities.”

As former Marine Commandant Charles Krulak said with a profound grasp of history “Only two names stand alone as the epitome of professionalism, musical acumen, creativity, and leadership: John Phillip Sousa and John R Bourgeous.”

As the title of the book suggests, John Bourgeous made his way from a wonderful part of America alive with all kinds of music, namely New Orleans and southern Louisiana, to enlist in the United States Marine Corps during the Eisenhower Presidency.

The reason why this book is so significant in today’s revisionist virtue posturing cancel culture by many lesser egos writing in our current American arts and letters forums is that with grace insight and dignity John Bourgeous’s  journey as Director brought him into direct contact with many Presidents.

There is a very powerful uniquely American historical legacy captured by his life’s journey.

After going through Marine boot camp with Ike as President a few years later as a young musician he now maybe one of the last musicians left who personally witnessed one of the most famous White House musical events ever.

President and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s historic Pablo Casals concert that signaled “that the White House wished to participate in the cultural life of the nation.”

Joining in that historic moment were many names eternally famous in American music, a composer such as Aaron Copeland, along with conductors, Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, and Leopold Stokowski and with classical musicians such as Violinist Alexander Schneider and pianist Mirczyslaw Horszowski playing.

It is so sad that in today’s symbolic and even more horrific actual smash mouth politics against our Presidents regardless of political party, it takes an original source who was present and directly working for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (41) and Bill Clinton to remind us all that they are men at a most basic human level and all were sincerely enthralled and captured by the pure power and joy of great music.

There is not a hint of political posturing or score settling in this book and each President is presented as a man who along with his family was always gracious in  expressing gratitude to the Marines that bring them and America and even the world so much joy.

I challenge all to watch our Fourth of July fireworks while bands throughout our nation play Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever or Semper Fidelis March or even yes The Washington Post March to feel deep pride in what we as a nation have accomplished for all humanity.

It is time to take a moment and recognize that the cliché ‘people are people’ is so so true even for our Presidents.

There is a very powerful lasting historical gift to America in this book.

I did not know but learned in reading Col. Bourgeous’s fascinating and historical many storied chapters and deeply profound moments of the Marine Band that there was something unifying and powerful in a song Abraham Lincoln told the Marine Corps Band to play:

“On 9 April 1865, after the surrender of Robert E Lee, the Marine Band and a great exuberant crowd assembled on the White House Lawn calling for the president.

“He appeared at the window and addressed the crowd ending his remarks by commanding the Band to play “Dixie” because, he said it is a good tune and now belongs to the nation.”

Eleven days later the Band lead President Lincoln’s funeral procession.

Sadly recently Old Miss luminaries, the flagship University of that state has banned the playing of Dixie.

Why they are insulting the profound guidance of President Lincoln to bind our wounds is incomprehensible.

It is such historic truths that we all are currently in danger of losing during this mindless time of hateful anger directed at our glorious and still ever dynamically going forward historical accomplishments of America evermore being the greatest hope for all humanity.

As a Catholic elementary school student and former Marine Officer originally from New York lets us all hear Dixie ring out and celebrate our heritage by not wallowing in any broad brush hateful condemnation of our American history and heritage.