At the tail end of the Cold War, the United States’ relationship with the former Soviet Union was tenuous. When Master Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Megan, then the assistant director of the U.S. Coast Guard Band, coordinated the first tour of an American military band in the former Soviet Union in June 1989, no one knew how the interaction would unfold. As it turns out, the Russians were just as curious about the visiting Americans, and the Coast Guard Band was met with warmth and kindness.
“Not one of us in the band had ever met a Russian, but we were overwhelmed by their friendliness, graciousness and generosity,” explained Megan, now a captain and director of the band. “Despite the difference in language and culture, we connected with our hosts on every level, and many of us made life-long friends.”
And so is the legacy the Coast Guard Band has created around the globe.
Megan ultimately went on to serve as director, and one of his most memorable trips was to Japan in 2008 when the group represented the United States as the first premier American military band to perform a concert tour throughout Japan. There, they celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Japan Coast Guard and the 20th anniversary of the Japan Coast Guard Band; the U.S. Coast Guard Band was again welcomed with friendliness by the Japanese people.
“The members of the band are such great goodwill ambassadors for the Coast Guard and the nation,” said Megan.
Though composed of only about 55 musicians and stationed permanently at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., the band’s compelling music has also gained an impressive international audience through public radio broadcasts, an initiative Megan lead and continued to build upon. In the mid-80s, the band’s performances began airing on more than 100 National Public Radio stations throughout the United States, which soon expanded to public radio stations in countries such as Japan, Australia, Great Britain and Germany. No longer was the band playing for an audience of just 1,500 people in Leamy Hall on the Academy grounds, but for tens of thousands of people across the world.
As he reflected upon his nine years as the band’s director, Megan reminisced about the emotions he’s experienced during the band’s many engagements. For example, the band was honored to perform at the Pageant of Peace during the National Christmas Tree Lighting one year, and Megan was overwhelmed by the majesty of his circumstance.
“I looked out over the crowd—on my right was the White House, on my left was the Washington Monument, and in front of me were thousands of people, including the president and his family. It was unforgettable.”
As an avid cycler, traveling with the band offered opportunities for Megan to experience some of the most scenic parts of the country and is one facet of serving with the band he admits he will miss immensely. He has traveled hundreds of miles across beautiful areas all over the country, cycling in the vast majority of the states in the nation. He frequently brought his road bicycle on tour with the band and occasionally cycled from one performance to the next. His cycling adventures led him through stunning routes in areas of the country – including Oahu, along Lake Michigan and throughout the hills of San Francisco.
And what does Megan plan to do with his time during his retirement? As a musician who had known since his childhood that he wanted to pursue a career in music, his retirement will most certainly involve music. He plans to serve as a guest conductor and continue writing pieces for the band. He also plans to travel with his wife, Anne, visit colleges and universities with his son, who is preparing to graduate high school, and spend more time on another of his favorite hobbies: gardening.
Megan’s final performance was a symbolic culmination of his time as director of the band, and the music he chose was music meaningful to him throughout his career. To add to the sentiment of the performance, he was accompanied on stage by many of those he served with during his 38 years in the band.
Though the captain has now formally retired, his pride in the band’s legacy will always be strong.
“I’m leaving a group that strives to represent the nation and the Coast Guard at the highest possible level all the time,” Megan said. “If that’s a legacy, it’s one of which I’m immensely proud.”