MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Jan. 19) --
Music has been played on battlefields for centuries. While the fife, drum and bugle have become purely ceremonial, some players maintain the tradition of inspiring comrades and terrifying the enemy with the bagpipes.
Sgt. Mark A. Matice, the barracks manager for Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, is Cherry Point’s own piper, having played in Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous state-side ceremonies.
Matice, a member of MWSS-274, began playing bagpipes on a deployment to Iraq in 2007 when he suffered an injury while working.
After his injury, he was told to work the unit’s tool room. To pass the high amounts of down time Matice took up playing the pipes.
Bagpipes have been played for centuries dating before to the 1700s in Scottland.
“Originally, bagpipes were an instrument of war,” said Cmdr. Carl P. Koch, the command chaplain for Cherry Point. “The Scots would play them as the fog was in the highlands, to hear this eerie sound was designed to disarm the enemy, to scare them, and yet they have a beautiful quality to them as well. The underlying hum adds almost the feelings of our cherished loved ones still walking among us. It gives people the feeling that those who have gone before are not forgotten. It’s a very emotionally evocative instrument.”
Matice’s pipes have their own heritage of warfare having been on all three of his deployments. More than that, anyone can tell they belong to a Marine just by looking at them.
“Nobody else is going to have a bag like that. That bag right there was a blouse that I wore in Iraq for two deployments,” Matice said.
A dirty old Marine Pattern desert blouse was sewn together and made airtight to hold the instrument’s reservoir of air. Between the reed and the chanter, sergeant chevrons are attached to the bag. Flying high on the long bass drone are two flags sewn together to make one, a POW/MIA flag on one face and a Marine Corps flag on the other.
“They’ve been around the world twice and been to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Matice said. “I don’t clean it, so all the sand and the dust on the pipes are from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In arranging the station 9/11 memorial ceremony this past year, Koch invited Matice to play because of the feelings bagpipes evoke.
With the pipes come a few extra, but worthwhile, duties. The British military in Afghanistan includes Welsh and Scottish soldiers who take pride in their piping heritage and more than welcome a piper on the battlefield. According to Matice, they believe it is good luck to have a bagpipe playing when a convoy leaves the base and when it returns. The caveat is he doesn’t play the slow songs, which tend to bring down the mood.
Then there is the somber note of memorial ceremonies for the fallen. His first ceremony was a mere four months after he had started playing.
“There was a helicopter crash out on the flight line and five Army soldiers died,” Matice remembered. “That night while the helicopter was still burning, I could see it from my bunker, I got on top of the bunker and played my pipes.”
A few days later, an Army 1st sergeant who knew the men who died came and asked Matice to play at the memorial ceremony. It would be his first time performing to a public audience.
“I played Amazing Grace for them and a couple of other slow songs,” he said.
Because of a severe head injury Matice suffered during his last deployment, he is not able to play as much as he would like. His injuries give him migraines after only 20 minutes of playing. But even so, he still holds out hope that his injuries will heal and he can return to playing the bagpipes like he loves.
“They bring people together for a fun time,” Matice said. “It’s a talent that I can pull out and rally people together.”