Honor & Homage

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Pipes and Drums Corps plays tribute to fallen heroes

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The Metro Detroit Police and Fire Pipes and Drums Corps was founded in 2002 after Hazel Park Police Officer Jessica Nagle-Wilson was shot and killed when responding to a dog-off-leash complaint.

“At that point in time no police or fire pipe and drum band existed in the City of Detroit, or the State of Michigan — either Cleveland or Windsor would be called and they would play at the Line Of Duty Death,” says the band’s Pipe Major Gary Marchetti, a retired detective sergeant from the Dearborn Police Department.

“Myself and several other local police officers and firefighters played her funeral and recognized there was a need for a Detroit-based police and fire band to pay honor and homage to our fallen brothers and sisters.”

Marchetti, who has been playing pipes for 16 years, started at age 40 after a friend, also a police officer, died. “The pipes played his funeral — and I was hooked,” he says.

While he has played in several pipe and drum bands, Marchetti now plays solely with the Metro Detroit Police and Fire Pipes and Drums.

“The camaraderie between the brothers is something that many people will never experience,” he says. “Our commitment to our mission statement and our continual striving to recruit and teach new members, increase and improve our repertoire, and deliver a professional, respectful product keeps you young.”

Being in the band also has opened doors Marchetti dreamed of — including playing in front of the President of the United States, for wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Facility, and at Comerica Field.

The band even shut down the U.S. Senate while then-Senator John Kerry was delivering a speech on the Senate floor.

“The Sergeant at Arms of the Senate came running in and tried to stop us from playing — little did he know the mechanisms on how to stop a pipe band midstream,” Marchetti says. “Needless to say, C-Span had some humorous comments on them never believing it possible to stop a politician from speaking once they had the floor.”

But the band’s main mission is to be available, free of charge, to pay honor and homage to fallen police officers and firefighters throughout Michigan who have died in the line of duty.

“Words leave so much to be desired when trying to accurately reflect the emotional and psychological and even physical rewards of playing at a hero’s funeral,”Marchetti says. “Each and every funeral, while the same in some ways, is different. Each fallen hero brings his or her story to the forefront and are honored and recognized. Each and every funeral is also a challenge to us as individuals and members of the band to fulfill our mission to the best of our ability.

“Our band’s presence at the funerals seems to reach out and actually touch a part of all who are grieving, and in some illogical but recognizable way allow and promote the grieving to occur, and establish a sense of worth and finality here on earth for the fallen hero.”

Drum Sergeant Bob Bartley is a founding member of the band, which currently numbers about 30 members from 22 agencies, and four civilian instructors. 

A former firefighter/paramedic with the Bloomfield Township Fire Department who retired in 2008 after 31 years of service, Bartley started learning drums at age 12, and took lessons in Scottish drumming 28 years ago. He has played in seven other pipe bands, from those just starting out to a top-ranked band in the Detroit area.

“This band is unique compared to others I’ve been in,” Bartley says. “We all have a common goal and mission to something that’s personal to us all. The bond we all share — whether police or fire — is strong.”

“It’s an honor to send our fallen brothers and sisters to their final resting place — it’s the least we can do for those who gave their lives in service to others,” he adds. “It’s sometimes hard to do when you see tears from officers from the departments of the fallen, and especially when you march by and the children of the officer are struggling with the loss of their father or mother, or pass parents whose child was taken before them. We still play on.”

While the band’s main mission is serious, members also enjoy fun events like the Corktown Parade, playing at Tiger Stadium and playing at fund-raising events.

“These keep us grounded and we just play for the enjoyment of entertaining others,” Bartley says, who notes that the band’s annual fund-raiser is August 20 at Lily’s Seafood Grill and Brewery in Royal Oak.

Other fun venues include the Macomb County Fire Chiefs Banquet, St. Clair County Firefighters Banquet, DPOA Awards Banquet, POAM Convention in Grand Rapids, Dearborn Parade, Irish Night fundraiser for the Berkley American Legion, Corktown Run, Detroit’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl in Corktown, Bruce Post Vietnam Veterans in St. Clair Shores, NPRC Banquet in Novi, and police and fire academy graduations at Schoolcraft College, as well as weddings, parties, and other special occasions.

Band Secretary Dave Wurtz is a retired Detective Sergeant from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, who got involved with the band when the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office worked with the Hazel Park Police Department after the murder of Officer Nagle Wilson. Wurtz and his then-partner were the officers in charge of the case from the night Nagle Wilson was murdered until her killer was sentenced to life in prison. 

Wurtz came to know Nagle Wilson’s family, and they encouraged him to attend his first Police Week in Washington D.C. in 2004. 

“As a result of that trip I became enamored with the idea of learning to play the bagpipes,” he says. “In my search for an instructor I discovered the Metro Detroit Police Fire Pipes and Drums, and at the urging of Gary Marchetti, attended a practice…and the rest is history.”

Fun events like Corktown provide two opportunities, he says.

“They are a chance to do what musicians do — entertain.  And perhaps more importantly, we have the opportunity to ‘let our hair down’ and have a good time with those in attendance.”

The band’s repertoire features 25 tunes, of which eight are designated as ‘Funeral Tunes’ but are not exclusive to funerals.

“Collectively, within the band there are literally hundreds of tunes that can be played by members,” Wurtz says.

In May, the band played during Police Week in the nation’s capital, and in 2013, piped family members of fallen firefighters in for a candlelight service at the National Fire Fighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md., and played a salute to the military at Gettysburg.

“Our participation at these events is an opportunity to represent Michigan’s public safety workers on the national stage,” Wurtz says.  “We spend a great of deal of time and energy preparing for those events.”

The band has also played at the MICOPS Candlelight Service in Lansing, the Michigan Fallen Heroes 9-11 Memorial in Pontiac, and the K9 Veterans Day Service at the Michigan War Dog Memorial in Lyon Township.

“Events like this give us the opportunity to pay homage to those who have fallen and keep their memory alive,” Wurtz says.

Law enforcement and firefighting produces a unique bond amongst the practitioners, Wurtz notes.

“The fact that our members come from the same ranks produces a similar bond — and from that bond comes the commitment to the mission of the MDPFPD,” he says.  “It’s as if each of us has taken a solemn vow to honor our fallen heroes, perhaps because we have a unique perspective on the sacrifice made by a brother or sister officer.”

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