American Legion Band turns 100

Director Eli Arnold (left), who has directed the ensemble since 2000, leads the group in practicing “God Bless America” with vocalist Dottie Mack. (Rod King)

By Rod King
For IN|FW Newspapers

FORT WAYNE — Doughboys with musical talent returning to Fort Wayne after World War I decided to form a band in 1919. They attached themselves to American Legion Post 47 and performed as the house band until 2011 when the Post became unable to support the group.

That band, which is now known as the American Legion Band of Fort Wayne, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The all-volunteer ensemble presents two concerts a month at nursing homes and senior living facilities and four times a year plays at Fort Wayne International Airport in a ceremony to greet returning Honor Flight veterans from their whirlwind Washington, D.C., tour.

Director Eli Arnold said ”It’s our way of honoring our veterans and our country. We start playing about an hour before the plane is scheduled to arrive for all the family and friends who have gathered to greet them and play until the last one has left the building. Sometimes the flight is delayed and we just continue to play until it comes, no matter how long it takes.”

“For those performances,” Arnold said, “we play a lot of marches and patriotic music. In addition, we bring out the oldies that they were familiar with in their youth which we hope will bring back good memories. We even have a cheerleader. She’s 88-year-old Dottie Mack who adds a lot of spirit to the festivities by getting the crowd to sing along and even dance with her.

“A couple others we’re honored to perform at are the Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in New Haven, Veterans Day breakfast at the New Haven Community Center and the Veterans Day concert at the History Center.”

The American Legion Band plays at the Fort Wayne International Airport to welcome home Honor Flight veterans. (Bridgett Hernandez)

The band has between 25 and 30 musicians from all walks of life. It recently picked up a few new players when the New Haven Alumni Band disbanded. “I make up a schedule of our concerts well in advance so everyone knows what’s going on. Some are still working and have difficulty making the afternoon performances at the nursing homes. We just make do with whoever shows up,” added Arnold. Practices are held Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at Crescent Avenue United Methodist Church.

Arnold, a Northwest Allen County native, started playing trombone in fifth grade. He moved on to baritone and then tuba (his major instrument), which he played as a member of the Indiana University Marching 100. He left school after a year, but at age 54 went back to IPFW to earn a degree in general studies.

Arnold played in the Legion Band many years before becoming its director in 2000. He also played in the Fort Wayne Area Community Band, Auburn Community Band and the Shrine Band. “If I wanted to and had the time,” he says, “I could play in one group or another five days a week.” He presently plays at nursing homes with Remember When Duets and with the Shepherds Brass Quintet. He also does some arranging for the group.

Arnold retired from a sales position at Brake Materials and Parts after 17 years and returned to his grandfather’s farm in Northwest Allen County to raise hogs from farrow to finish. He also drove a school bus for 25 years for Northwest Allen County Schools.