HONOLULU, Hawaii - The Thomson High Bulldog Brigade has made several incredible trips in the past few years that include halftime performances at the Orange Bowl in Miami, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
But none of these can compare to their most anticipated trip and performance ever that they made over the Christmas Holidays from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2. This journey took approximately 136 band members, band faculty, band boosters and band alumini over 4,400 miles and close to ten hours across the United States and the Pacific Ocean to the state of Hawaii, the island of Oahu and the city of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach.
"This was a trip of a lifetime for our band students," said Jessie Morlan, director of the Bulldog Brigade. "On this trip, we experienced cultures and activities that our students will probably never see again."
He said the Pearl Harbor visit was the pinnacle of the trip.
"Out of all the activities we were involved in during this whole week, the highlight of our trip was our visit and performance at Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri Battleship in honor of the 65th Anniversary of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor," he said. "The Thomson High Bulldog Brigade made history on this trip, because we were the last group to perform and lay a wreath in the USS Arizona Memorial in commemoration of the bombing of Pearl Harbor."
The Bulldog Brigade delegation arrived at the Honolulu International Airport on Dec. 27 on two separate Delta jet airliners several hours apart. Each member of the group received a traditional fresh flower lei greeting from their Polynesian Tour Guide Kiri Fualautoalasi. Later, each group was welcomed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel by Gateway Tour Manager Tammy Jo Sutton.
On Thursday, Dec. 28, band representatives enjoyed a leisurely day of activities that included swimming and fun at Waikiki Beach, swimming with dolphins, taking a ride on a submarine 120 feet down in the Pacific Ocean or just "shopping till you dropped" at the many shopping areas on Waikiki Beach.
Later that afternoon, the entire group enjoyed a delicious supper at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory at the Ala Moana Shopping Mall.
On Friday, Dec. 29, the band delegation departed for the well-known Polynesian Cultural Center for an all-day excursion.
Before the group arrived at the center, the three busses carrying the Bulldog Brigade stopped at the world famous Banzai Pipeline and the beautiful Sunset Beach. The Pipeline is the site of some of the world's greatest surfing action, and Sunset Beach is the site where Baywatch Hawaii was filmed.
When the group reached their designation at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the band members experienced a life-changing event that will be remembered for a lifetime. The Bulldog Brigade visited the villages of Hawaii, Tahiti and Samoa and participated in a hands-on clinic in which local cultures and every-day activities were taught to the band members.
"This experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center was a first for all of us," Mr. Morlan said. "We were the first group ever to be able to participate in a hands-on clinic instructed by residents of these villages."
After a lunch break at the Brigham Young University Cafeteria, the delegation from Thomson explored other Polynesian villages and cultures that included the islands of Tonga, Marquesas, New Zealand and Fiji. Native residents from these islands participated in performances, demonstrations and made artifacts that portrayed their everyday life.
That night after dinner, the Bulldog Brigade enjoyed a beautiful performance of the Horizons Show at the Pacific Theatre. This was the largest revue of Polynesian song and dance in the world that featured over 100 native performers from all corners of the Pacific.
On Saturday, Dec. 30, the band enjoyed a rugged ¾ mile hike up to the pinnacle of Diamond Head, an extinct volcano. At the top, this perch gave the band representatives a magnificent, unobstructed view of Waikiki Beach and downtown Honolulu.
But it was the Dec. 31 stop at Pearl Harbor that many said was most memorable.
The USS Arizona Memorial is the final resting place for many of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on Dec. 7, 1941. The Memorial structure stands over the mid-portion of the sunken battleship.
Bulldog Brigade members Sarah Bass, Chauncey Kinlow, Jacob Powers and Steve Holbert presented a beautiful wreath from Thomson High School at the base of the marble wall in the Memorial where the names of those killed in the USS Arizona are engraved.
"This portion of our trip will forever be etched in the memory of our students," Mr. Morlan said. "The presentation of the wreath was an honorable event and occasion, and we were the last group to do this in commemoration of Pearl Harbor's 65th anniversary. The atmosphere in the Memorial was so peaceful and solemn, and all of Thomson's representatives knew what this moment meant."
After their visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, the Bulldog Brigade traveled by trolley to Ford Island and to the USS Missouri Battleship, where they performed several patriotic selections at the base of the ship.
Selections performed by the band were "The Star Spangled Banner," "An American Salute," "Amazing Grace" that featured soloist Tim Pounds, "An Armed Forces Salute" and "America the Beautiful."
Following this 20-minute performance, Bobi Baclaan, Special Programs Coordinator for the USS Missouri Memorial presented American Flags to two Bulldog Brigade members that will be presented to the two Pearl Harbor survivors in McDuffie County, Roger Reid and Nancy Freeman.
Band members Brittany Barnhill and Trevor Simpson received the flags from Ms. Baclaan in honor of the two local survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack.
"The Thomson High Band was the most respected group we had here all year," Ms. Baclaan said. "The City of Thomson and McDuffie County should be proud of this group of young people for they represented their home with the utmost respect and honor."
After a tour of the USS Missouri, the brigade made its way back to their host hotel to get ready for a New Year's Eve party at Planet Hollywood.
The next day, the Bulldog Brigade returned home to Thomson full of memories and remembrances of their exciting trip.
Tour guides Tammy Jo Sutton and Kiri Fualautoalasi were very well pleased with the performances and actions of the Bulldog Brigade.
"This group of students did an exceptional job in every aspect of their trip to Hawaii. The trip was rushed at times, but everyone joined in and did an extraordinary job to get everything accomplished," they said.