The Michigan WWI Centennial Commission and Michigan Military Heritage Museum honored the metal band Sabaton for bringing the history of World War One alive for their fans.
This is a story about storytellers and how they met to share their enthusiasm for music and military history. The Swedish power metal band Sabaton has been crisscrossing the world since 1999 sharing stories of heroism and tragedy entwined within the history of military conflict. Some of their most captivating songs deal with World War One. These include “Price of a Mile” which deals with the Battle Of Passchendaele and “The Lost Battalion” which tells the tale of the men in U.S. 77th Division during World War One who suffered heavy losses fighting the Germans in the Argonne Forest.
Michigan Military Heritage Museum
The Michigan Military Heritage Museum in Grass Lake is a bountiful treasure chest of stories about the brave Michigan men and women who have served our country. Through inspiring displays and storyboards, they share the personal stories of soldiers who have been part of each major military conflict from the Revolution through the Iraq War. They have several interesting displays which tell stories from World War One. Our favorite deals with the 32nd Division who was the first allied division to pierce the German defensive line. Their ability to break through the front earned them the name of the “Red Arrow Division”. Their tenacity and fortitude garnered them the nickname of “Les Terribles”.
Kevin Gerych who volunteers at the Michigan Military Heritage Museum with his father and museum board member Scott Gerych, is a fan of Sabaton. He knew the band would be stopping in Michigan and came up with the idea of honoring the band’s musical contribution toward the enlightenment of their fans about military history. Kevin and Scott worked with fellow museum board member Dennis Skupinski in developing an excellence award from the Michigan World War One Centennial Commission.
The Michigan WWI Centennial Commission
In addition to being an active board member with the museum, Dennis was instrumental in persuading the state of Michigan to form the World War One Centennial Commission. If you have not checked out the website for the commission, do it today. There is a wealth of fantastic stories covering Michigan’s involvement with the ‘War to end all War’.
Meeting with Sabaton
Dennis, Scott, and Kevin contacted Sabaton’s manager and bass player Pär Sundström as well as their tour manager Bruno Fernandes. The band was flattered to receive the invitation for the award and made plans for Dennis, Scott, and Kevin to join them on stage during their performance at 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids. The guys from the Michigan Military Heritage museum were kind enough to invite Life In Michigan along for the ride.
Bruno met us at the band’s hotel, provided us with all access passes, and invited us over for the sound check. The plan was to meet the band and then Dennis, Scott and Kevin would run through the presentation. The presentation included a short video featuring images of the Michigan Military Heritage Museum, a reading of the Certificate of Excellence that would be presented to each member of the band, and challenge coins.
You may be wondering “What are challenge coins”? I wondered as well, and Scott gave us the low down. Apparently, they originated in World War One. Members of a given division, squad, what have you, would all have a coin that identified their group. When you would meet up with fellow soldiers at the bar and someone broke out their coin, you were challenged to present yours. If you could present your coin, then the challenger must buy your drink. However, if you don’t have your coin, then you must buy. The always wonderful Wikipedia has more details on the origins of challenge coins which is a must read. If you are like me, you are thinking you need a challenge coin too.
The Presentation of the Certificates of Excellence
We re-grouped with Scott, Kevin, and Dennis just after doors opened for the concert. 20 Monroe Live quickly filled up with fans eager to see Cyhra, Kreator, and Sabaton. You can check out a full review of the show at National Rock Review. Cliff notes version is that each band drew the crowd in and regaled them with epic metal performances.
As rehearsed earlier, Sabaton completed “The Last Stand” and vocalist Joakim Brodén invited Scott, Kevin, and Dennis to the stage. A mighty roar burst from the crowd and Joakim handed the mic to Scott. Scott read the following to the band and their fans:
Michigan’s World War One Centennial Commission would like to recognize Sabaton with an official Certificate of Excellence on February 26, 2018.
Your songs including but certainly not limited to “Angels Calling”, “Cliffs of Gallipoli”, “Price of a Mile”, “Last Dying Breath”, and “The Lost Battalion”, are introducing more people to history and especially to the history of the First World War. We would like to thank you and hope that you continue to write and perform songs of the Great War and beyond.
More cheers rattled the rafters of 20 Monroe Live as Kevin handed Pär Sundström (bass), Hannes Van Dahl (drums), Tommy Johansson (guitar), Chris Rörland (guitar), and Joakim Brodén individual certificates. Dennis followed by providing each of the band members with a commemorative challenge coin.
As the band raised their certificates into the air, more cheers erupted from the crowd. The looks on the face of each member of Sabaton clearly showed their modesty and esteem. It was heartwarming to witness such an elevated state of mutual respect and admiration between the band and their fans.
Thoughts on the power of music
Sabaton continued with more music which the fans ravenously enjoyed. After the show, Bruno and the members of Sabaton thanked us all for joining them and being a part of their show. We then packed up our gear and called it an evening.
Later I talked with Scott Gerych on the phone about the show. He mentioned that he was struck by how down to earth and easy going the guys in Sabaton are. He also shared his encounters with several veterans at the show. Scott is a veteran himself and relayed how much of a positive impact the music of Sabaton had for the veterans he talked to. It was as if the music provided validation and recognition for their service.
It was a treat and an honor to be invited by the Michigan Military Heritage Museum to share their experience and presentation to the band Sabaton. As a fan of music, it demonstrated to me the positive power of music. Hopefully, this event will spur Sabaton fans to come out to Grass Lake and immerse themselves in a bit of history.
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