TAPS family member Jason Thomas, 6, plays a mandolin with the help of Army Master Sgt. John Lamirande, of the U.S. Army Filed Band’s Six String Soldiers, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, May 22, 2015. Lamirande, of Baldwinsville, is retiring from the band. (DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)
By Ashley M. Casey
After 31 years, Master Sgt. John Lamirande is hanging up his fatigues. Later this year, the Baldwinsville native will retire from the U.S. Army, where he has served as an audio engineer for the U.S. Army Field Band and participated in other musical groups.
Lamirande mentored his last group of student musicians at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which took place Jan. 7 in San Antonio, Texas. The All-American Bowl features nearly 100 high school football players and 125 high school marching band members, who perform in the halftime show.
“Every year we have a unique opportunity to play with the best students from across the country,” Lamirande said. “The work ethic that they have really ties into our message and what the Army’s all about. The Army is all about excellence, no matter what you do.”
Lamirande, who plays the electric bass, guitar, piano and drums, joined the Army as a musician in 1986 after graduating from Baker High School. The following year, Lamirande graduated from the Little Creek Naval School of Music. Since 2001, Lamirande has been an audio engineer for offshoots of the U.S. Army Field Band such as the Volunteers, the Soldiers’ Chorus and the Concert Band.
As his career comes to a close, Lamirande reflected on the memories he’s made in the last 30 years.
“When you go through high school and you read about history, it’s one thing. When you go to another country and experience it, it makes you appreciate living here,” said Lamirande, who has traveled with Army musical groups to Iraq, Kuwait, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
“People throw words around like ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ — you never take for granted what you have,” he said.
Based at Fort Meade in Maryland, Lamirande spends about one-third of the year on tour, spreading the message of the Army’s values. One of his recent ventures is playing in Six-String Soldiers, a four-member group that was formed about a year and a half ago. Six-String Soldiers specializes in Americana, folk, bluegrass and Irish music.
When winter weather caused Six-String Soldiers to cancel a show in February 2015, the group decided to perform anyway.
“We went out on the snow bank of our hotel and played ‘Here Comes the Sun,’” Lamirande said.
The video of that song now has 8.7 million views on Facebook.
Another memorable moment for Six-String Soldiers was a gig at an Indiana veterans’ home. One Vietnam veteran at the home requested a Creedence Clearwater Revival song. Six-String Soldiers obliged with “Bad Moon Rising,” which they also posted online.
“[CCR frontman] John Fogerty saw the video, invited us out to Las Vegas to open up for him at the Venetian and then he went to a VA home with us,” Lamirande said.
Social media avenues such as Facebook have amplified Six-String Soldiers’ reach. The band has almost 332,000 likes on Facebook.
Lamirande said the band streamed a holiday concert via Facebook Live, and his 5-year-old grandson, Ryder, joined him onstage to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Lamirande’s mother, who taught her son how to play piano and guitar, watches her son’s faraway concerts on her iPad.
“It really resonates not just with people with our own country here; we have fans all over the world,” Lamirande said. “It’s a great way for me to end my career, to be a part of the transition and technology.”
The most recent memory Lamirande shared came the week leading up to the All-American Bowl. Lamirande stopped by a music store to pick up some equipment for a student musician, and he decided to noodle around on a ukulele in the store. A young girl with Down syndrome and her grandmother happened to be in the store as well.
“This girl starts singing with me: ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ It was a very emotional moment for the grandmother. She didn’t expect to see a soldier in a music store,” Lamirande said. “It’s why I joined the Army — to share the talents I have and make people happy.”
As for what’s next, Lamirande said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family and community in Laurel, Maryland.
“I’m looking forward to being able to do a little more in the community whether it be with my church choir or with my kids,” he said, adding that he’s always dreamed of getting into talk radio.
But with nine months to go before his retirement, Lamirande does have a wish for B’ville: “I would love it if I could have my last concert in my hometown.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.