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The Augustana Band

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The Swedish immigrants who came to settle in the Mississippi Valley in the 19th century apparently had trouble understanding the finer points of American culture. We Americans know, for example, that it is customary for a band to play rousing music, which is heard by patriotic hearts, who then march off to war. No Rock Island volunteer in the Civil War left for the front without such a band.<--break->But that's not what happened at Swedish Augustana College back in April of 1917. After leading a citizen's parade down 7th avenue in Rock Island celebrating the anniversary of the midnight ride of Paul Revere—part of a national "Wake Up, America Day"—it was the Augustana Concert Band who marched off to war, leaving the bystanders behind.

Apparently inspired by their own music—or perhaps by the fact that the Augustana faculty voted to exempt students who enlisted from having to take their final examinations—all 23 members of the Augustana band, along with their director, Harry Kalquist, marched down to the Rock Island recruiting office on April 17th, and enlisted as a unit in the Sixth Regiment of the Illinois Infantry. After a farewell concert at the college on the morning of the 20th, during which they received a standing ovation for their rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, the bank embarked for Camp Logan, Texas. From here, they were sent to France where they played for troops at Toul, Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, and Soissons. Following the Armistice, they were sent through Luxembourg and Southern France on a concert tour before being mustered out back home in the United States in 1919.

After this experience, the Swedes at Augustana must have thought they now understood the nuances of American ways. But no. Ten years later, in 1928, the Augustana Concert Band again sailed for Europe on a grand concert tour, but alas, this time they were unable to find a war.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.