Soldiers' casual harmonizing leads to singing at official events
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — More than a few times in the barracks at Kwangju Air Base in South Korea, some soldier near the end of his tour has been surprised with what you might call parting words.
In the next moment he’s hearing — in clinging two-part harmony — words to “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” a Boyz II Men song.
The barracks singers are Sgt. Gerald Henderson, a 32-year-old tenor-baritone from Thibodaux, La., and Cpl. Perry Molden, 21, a tenor from Cleveland, Miss. Both are with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, part of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
It was that kind of casual harmonizing-for-fun around the battery area that eventually led to the two being in demand for performances of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at change-of-command ceremonies and other official functions.
Their first gig came last January, when their battery commander wanted someone to sing the anthem at his upcoming change-of-command, Henderson said.
“I guess the word got around that a few people in the battery could sing,” he said. “We actually auditioned … went to his office and sang … [and] his response was, ‘I love it and I can’t wait to hear you guys sing for the ceremony.’”
It hasn’t stopped. A few months ago they sang at the grand opening of a new food court on base and helped launch KATUSA Week, which honors South Korean soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army. Last month there were two ceremonies: one for their battalion commander, the other for the brigade sergeant major.
On July 15, the duo boarded a bus along with others from their unit for an early morning trip from Kwangju to their brigade’s headquarters at Osan Air Base in Pyongtaek, where the unit was changing brigade commanders.
There, on a hot, hazy morning with brigade troops formed up and saluting at the “Pre-sent, ARMS!” command, the duo harmonized “The Star Spangled Banner.” It was a cappella, mostly straight, but with their trademark embellishment by stretching out the “banner yet wave” phrase to “wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ave ….”
But even this they were careful not to hold too long.
“I don’t want to do that when we have people in formation because I know how it feels, to be hot and at present arms,” Molden said.
Henderson and Molden got to know each other when both arrived at the battery in November. Henderson joined the Army in 1991 and has an administrative job in the battery motor pool. Molden, who joined in 2002, is a missile launcher operator.
Both have long backgrounds in church and school choirs and have an easy instinct for making a cappella harmony come out right.
“It could be in the barracks in either person’s room or out in the break area in the quad, or in the stairwell — nice acoustics in the stairwell,” Henderson said.
Sometimes it’s a song Molden’s composed, like “Jesus Won’t Let You Down.” Or another gospel song — “Have You Tried Jesus?” Or rhythm and blues — “Can You Stand The Rain.” And, of course, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
“Sing that a lot,” said Henderson, “because someone’s always leaving.”