The 82nd Airborne Division All-America Chorus that will sing Sunday night, May 17, at the second annual Garner Veteran Memorial’s Salute to the Troops is composed of soldiers.
They are men and women who love to sing and to be the face of the 82nd in the community, but they make it clear they are soldiers first.
“They did not join the Army to be singers,” said Staff Sergeant Kissta DiGregorio. “They still are specialists in other areas who have a special assignment in the chorus for about two years. They are soldiers first.”
Each of the basses, baritones, first tenors and second tenors is trained in a military specialty.
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Sgt. John Strothers, for example, is an Apache helicopter mechanic. He is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and has been in the Army for six years, the last 30 months with the chorus.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Vaiagae is a refueler who grew up in Georgia. He served in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. He has been in the Army for 17 years, 10 months and has been in the chorus for about three years.
“The men and women come in and we form a bond,” Vaiagae said. “They go back to their other duties or they leave the military, but we stay in touch. It is a special time.”
The 26 men and women in the 82nd chorus perform 500 to 600 times a year and it is not unusual for them to practice morning and afternoon. There are about 65 songs in their a capella repertoire, ranging from the memorial songs they are expected to sing during the Salute to the Troops to “Danny Boy,” “Amazing Grace” and “My Girl”.
The a capella sound is what attracted Vaiagae, who grew up listening to doo-wap and singing songs by The Drifters and other vocal groups.
Strothers grew up singing in church.
To them, hearing and singing the a capella harmonies still are a delight.
The performances have brought special moments.
Strothers remembers singing at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. He was stunned by the Jumbotron.
Vaiagae, who is of Samoan descent, said it was special to him to sing at the Ellis Island Medals of Honor ceremony. New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and journalist Meredith Vieira were among the recipients of the awards given by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations.
The biggest thrill, though, is representing the 82nd Airborne.
“We know that when we perform, we are representing the 82nd, the Army and the United States,” Strothers said. “That is a pleasure.”
This is the second annual Salute to the Troops. A community choir and orchestra has been organized and will be under the direction of Beth Hunnicutt, the worship leader at Garner First Baptist Church, and Doug Pedigo, the minister of music at Aversboro Road Baptist Church.
Following the 6 p.m. event at Aversboro Road Baptist Church, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at nearby Lake Benson Park at the Garner Veterans Memorial.