The U.S. Marines held a military and helicopter demonstration at Walt Whitman High School as part of Fleet Week. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Anthony Florio

The Marine Corps band had just finished a  melancholy rendition of “Shenandoah” Wednesday on Walt Whitman High School's turf field when members noticed their student audience growing lethargic in the sun.

About half the band's ensemble walked off the field, but one musician who remained asked the crowd to make some noise. 

“We can do better than that,” the musician said, rousing the 11th- and 12th-graders on the bleachers to cheer.

The musicians responded, breaking into a jazz ensemble and playing two upbeat numbers that had the Marines dancing and the students standing and clapping.

It was a different way to win hearts and minds. The students had gathered outside the South Huntington school to watch the Marine Corps showcase, first from the U.S. Marine Corps drill team, followed by the famous band and then the arrival of two U.S. military attack helicopters, It was all part of the run-up to Fleet Week and Memorial Day demonstrations in the New York area.

The Marine Corps drill team presentation at Walt Whitman High...

The Marine Corps drill team presentation at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station as part of Fleet Week and the Memorial Day exhibition. Credit: Rick Kopstein

The visits are intended to let students see the Marines in something other than stereotypes, said Maj. Denny Graziosi.

“When most people think of Marines, they think about people jumping out of airplanes, low crawling through mud, and blowing stuff up,” Graziosi told the students. "We do that and, trust me, we do it well.”

There are, however, more than 350 jobs available in the Marine Corps, spanning careers involving logistics, administration and intelligence, not to mention musicians.

"We appreciate our musicians and we're very proud of what they do for Marine Corps,” Graziosi said.

Walt Whitman senior Chris Boettger-Smolich, 18, said he enjoyed the performances more than he expected. “It definitely made me a lot more patriotic,” he said.

Two military attack helicopters, a SuperCobra and a Huey, landed on the front field of the high school as part of morning's grand finale.

Students were encouraged to get close to the choppers and go inside.

“I've seen it on TV, but I've never experienced it in person,” said senior Tash Georges, 18.  “There were three different screens, and the technology is amazing. It is mind-blowing how they do it.”

Corey Blair, the district's supervisor of counseling K-12, said he and three other educators were invited to observe cadet training and graduations at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot  in Parris Island, South Carolina.

The educators spent four days and three nights living a typical experience for trainees, including waking up at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast, attending classes, and even doing physical drills in the rain.

At the end of their time, a major asked if the school district would be interested in having the Marines come to them.

Two other Long Island school districts, Sayville and Elwood, sent representatives to the Parris Island training and  scheduled visits by the Marines this week.

Blair said that in every graduating class, several students join the military, including at least six in the Class of 2024. While his time at Parris Island allowed him to better help students interested in enlisting, Blair said he is happy that all students can be exposed to what the Marines have to offer, regardless of their career paths.

Fleet Week, which began Thursday and runs through May 28, brings U.S. warships into major U.S. cities and offers members of the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard a chance to interact with locals and form community bonds. 

On Saturday, U.S. attack helicopters will land at Cricket Field 11 at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Patrons will see performances by the Navy Band Northeast and Navy Ceremonial Guard, a fast rope demonstration, and other military displays.

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