NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - On a warm June day in 1968, 40 members of the New Brunswick High School band stood on the city train platform playing solemn hymns.
It was supposed to be a one-hour performance as they waited the train traveling from New York to Washington, carrying the body of a slain presidential candidate, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
But one-hour dragged into two, and then three, as the train was delayed, and all the major television stations continued to film the band for news reports seen across the country.
“We didn’t realize the impact we were going to have,” Nick Santoro, one of the band members, told the New Brunswick City Council on Wednesday night.
“We received letters from every state in the union. We received money from a shoe salesman in California who bought shoes for everybody in the band,” Santoro said.
As the country this week marked the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, the New Brunswick city council recognized Santoro and three other band members who performed at the train station on June 8, 1968, three days after the shooting.
Council President Glenn Fleming explained that the band was expected to play for one hour, but the train carrying Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington D.C. was delayed because of an accident in Linden.
“It was hot. There was no air (blowing) at the train station. There was no water,” recalled Russell Marchetta, who played trumpet in the band on that day. Many years later, Marchetta became an assistant city administrator for New Brunswick. He retired earlier this year.
Santoro’s wife, Barbara Krauss-Santoro, and Barbara’s sister, Kathy Krass-Galtere, were also in the band and appeared at the council meeting. The two women were the daughters of then high school band director George Krauss.
The entire band performance was organized in one day, the band members said. On June 7, one day before the train was coming through the city, a veterans group approached the high school about having the band play at the station.
The school music department rounded up band members. Krauss passed out U.S. Army hymnals, the former high school musicians recalled.
“We just played unrehearsed,” Nick Santoro recalled.
When the band director learned the train was delayed in Linden, he called for the student musicians to take a well-deserved break. But television reporters - who were standing on the opposite train platform - asked Krauss to have the band keep playing while the cameras rolled.
“We were playing 55 minutes then taking a five-minute break,” Santoro recalled.
When the train finally arrived, it rolled slowly past the station. Barbara Krauss, who played alto saxophone, recalled that news camera footage recorded her father playing “Taps” as the rail cars left the station.
It was a version of "Taps" that she will never forget.