Bagpiping to Normandy
The Amityville pipe band marches past St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (Photo via Jim Gilchrist)

Bagpiping to Normandy

Historic Programs and the D-Day Committee have nominated the Amityville (N.Y.) American Legion Pipe Band to serve as lead pipe band and official U.S. representative at the June 2023 D-Day commemoration. The band will perform at wreath-laying and commemoration ceremonies at Brittany and Omaha Beach cemeteries, parade services in Sainte-Mère-Église, and are tentatively scheduled for an event in Paris.

Drum major Jim Gilchrist is a member of Post 1066 in Massapequa, where the pipe band has been based since 2015. But it retains the name of its hometown, nearby Amityville, where it was established in 1952 at Post 1015: “We know where we started,” he says. Some of the founding members had been taught to play by British Army veterans. Gilchrist joined in 1981 – his father knew some members. The band is open to all – “anyone who wants to play, we’ll teach them.”

The band is scrupulous in its performance and attire. Equipment was initially ordered from Scotland. They sought, and obtained, written permission from Queen Mother Elizabeth to wear the distinctive Black Watch tartan; she grew up an aristocrat in that country, and a brother died during World War I while serving in the “Black Watch” 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. It is the only civilian band with such permission. Unfortunately, her letter was later lost in an Amityville post fire. According to Gilchrist, the band once opened for the Black Watch Regiment when they crossed the ocean to perform at Nassau Stadium.

For Gilchrist the trip to Normandy will be personal. His father, an unarmed medic who had previously been badly wounded in Sicily, went ashore with the first wave on D-Day; he walked out of the landing craft into 10 feet of water, and had to cut away his medical equipment to not be pulled underwater. His son calls this "a phenomenal opportunity."

The Amityville band performs at area community and veteran events, and has marched in New York City St. Patrick’s Day parades.

Learn more and follow the Amityville American Legion Pipe Band on its Facebook page.