GREEN BAY AREA REGIONAL NEWS: Brown County

Veteran trumpet player looks back on time with Air Force Band of the West

Hometown Heroes

BELLEVUE, Wis. (WFRV)- You don’t often tie a love for music with the Air Force, unless you’re Kewaunee native Gene Burmeister.

“When I was in second grade, all I wanted for Christmas that year was a trumpet,” Burmeister said.

He got that trumpet for Christmas, and it spawned a lifelong passion for playing music.

“For some reason in the back of my head, I always had this inkling to play with the Air Force Band,” Burmeister said.

“I went to the recruiter one day after work, and asked some questions about the band, and he said, ‘Well, you’d have to audition for the band,’” said Burmeister.

So that’s what he did. The year was 1965, a then 19-year-old Burmeister took his trumpet to a band audition in Green Bay.

He was just one of two people chosen out of 37 who auditioned that day. 

Next, he would head to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, officially enlisting in the Air Force in 1965.

“My basic training was on Lackland Air Force Base, and that was the band that I chose because they needed a trumpet player,” said Burmeister. “I chose to stay right there; I just had to pack my duffle bag and walk across the base and report to the commander of the band and that’s where it started,” he said.

That start led to four years of Burmeister and the 539th Air Force Band of the West touring the Lone Star State, recruiting enlistees and playing at dances, even playing backup for Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell.

Burmeister also recalls being at the ready to play for former President Lyndon B. Johnson, whenever he would arrive at, or leave Lackland Air Force Base.

But his time in the band wasn’t all fond memories; Burmeister recalls playing taps at the funeral of a Vietnam veteran, a moment that showed him the power of music.   

“I remember it because it was very windy,” Burmeister recalled. “You go out there with two flags and the two guys (did) everything they could do to hold on to these flag staffs in this wind,” he said.

“They had the service and they fired the three volleys, and on the very first note of taps the wind stopped,” said Burmeister.  “I will remember that forever.”

It’s those moments that keep Burmeister going today.

“It carried on, I’ve been playing locally here ever since,” said Burmeister.

Before COVID-19 hit, Burmeister estimates he was playing with at least 10 different groups, most notably the Allouez Village Band. However, the pandemic won’t slow Burmeister down.

“You do it because you enjoy it, it’s in your soul,” said Burmeister. “It’s in your heart and you just love making people happy,” he said.

Have someone you’d like to nominate for Hometown Hero? Let us know below!

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