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The Florida Orchestra performs a WWII veteran's tribute march at its free 'Pops in the Park' concert

An older man dressed in a U.S. Army uniform and a side cap, sits in a chair
Susan Giles Wantuck
World War Two veteran Fred Faulkner

Amateur composer Fred Faulkner said all three of his children are coming to town to hear the performance Sunday.

When he was seven, the only thing Fred Faulkner wanted to do was go outside and play baseball with the other kids in his Chicago neighborhood. But it was not to be. His mother, Violet Cooksey Faulkner, wanted him to learn to play the piano.

Ten years later, Fred enlisted in the U.S. Army because he saw what was happening in Europe.

Then, when he was 19, in the waning days of the Second World War, he was sent to the Ardennes Forest for the brutal “Battle of the Bulge” in the winter of 1944 - to intercept German communications as part of the U.S. Army’s 3257 Signal Corps Company.

His daughter, Anne Shoemaker, said her dad was a “sitting duck” for the German fighter pilots. And the English, under whose military he was serving at the time, had put a big anti-aircraft gun not far from his position.

Faulkner remembers bitter cold, some of the coldest temperatures Europe had seen in decades.

He suffered frostbite and said the snow was up to his knees.

Now Faulkner decries the lack of civic education and history in public schools. He said people need to know about World War II.

And when he decided to pay tribute to his comrades, the means was right there.

"I've messed around in music all my life. And so, I thought well, the Ardennes battle needs to be remembered, and you can't think of media that would produce things that would recall the Ardennes Forest and give credit to the guys that were there and suffered through it," he said.

Faulkner is the last living member of his Signal Service Company. And he’s about to turn 99.

This Sunday night, The Florida Orchestra will perform his “Ardennes March,” his tribute to his comrades and the broader work of the Allies in the Second World War.

Faulkner wrote a letter to TFO Music Director Michael Francis. They connected and Francis was fascinated by Faulkner's story.

A man in a tuxedo stands in the midst of green trees.
Andi Tafelski
The Florida Orchestra Music Director Michael Francis stands in front of a tree at St. Petersburg's Sunken Gardens.

The work was originally scored for an unusual mix of instruments, for a concert band that Faulkner played in New Port Richey.

Ross Holcombe, The Florida Orchestra’s associate principal trombonist, orchestrated the march so it can be played in the TFO’s free “Pops in the Park” concert this Sunday night at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

He said Michael Francis handed him a bunch of scores to see if they were any good.

“I went home and I just started like playing through a little bit on my piano, I would just find a melody line and play it. And I thought, ‘Wow, these melodies, are actually kind of singable, kind of neat,’ they were kind of getting stuck in my head just from playing them on the piano a little bit,” Holcombe said.

Holcombe said the march is very patriotic and grand and includes “Taps,” which most everyone will recognize. It’s a call used at military funerals.

“But then there's actually like a storytelling part where he depicts the battle through music. And he uses all sorts of neat effects. The trombones do a big glissando up and down, which is supposed to sound like an air raid siren,” Holcombe said.

Faulkner calls the fact that The Florida Orchestra is performing his music, “the crown of my life.”

And he said, the musicality that his mother helped to foster in him “is the greatest gift I ever had, in retrospect.”

Sunday night's concertwill be led by Florida Orchestra Resident Conductor, Chelsea Gallo.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.