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For Coast Guard Master Chief, This March Will Be His Last

Coast Guard Band (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Coast Guard Band (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

NEW LONDON -- Master Chief Jonathan Towne is dusting off his bearskin hat for the last time.

This year's inauguration, when Donald Trump will be sworn in as 45th president of the United States, will be Towne's eighth and last -- at least as a member of the Coast Guard Band. The band has marched in every presidential inaugural parade since 1929, when Herbert Hoover was sworn in as president. The first inaugural parade occurred in 1805 at Thomas Jefferson's second inauguration.

As drum major, Towne will lead the band, wearing the bearskin hat, as the group marches from the Capitol Building down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

"It's pretty impressive," Towne said of the hat, which is worn by drum majors of all service bands. "It's pretty tall. I'm a tall guy anyway. It's pretty tall, so you stand out in the crowd, absolutely. And it's all part of the military tradition that's come down from Great Britain."

The only song the band will play on inauguration day is the Coast Guard's anthem "Semper Paratus," which "unfortunately is probably the least known of the five service songs," Towne said. "We want people to become more familiar with it."

Towne joined the band in the summer of 1988 as a clarinet player and is now its most senior enlisted member. He'd been a member for only five months when he marched in the parade for George H.W. Bush's inauguration.

Inauguration days have brought all kinds of weather. The first Bush's inauguration was the windiest Towne ever participated in. He recalled seeing military hats flying back down the parade route.

"It was like, 'Wow, there goes another one. There goes another one.' I had my hand on my hat a couple times to make sure the same didn't happen me," Towne said.

President Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009 was the coldest. Temperatures were in the 20s, Towne said, noting that "we did a lot of waiting around outside" on what is usually a 10-hour day for band members. He recalled how a group of 20 to 25 band members huddled together as close as possible to stay warm. Band members tend to stock up on hand and foot warmers, and some even wear electric socks.

Above all, the day is a great honor for all those involved.

"No matter who the president is, you're playing for the Office of the President, which is certainly a position that holds great respect, that demands great respect, and especially in the country we live in, where they are freely elected. We take that for granted, which maybe we shouldn't so much, because there are a lot of countries where they don't have that same opportunity as we do," Towne said. "It's a great honor."

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