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Bagpipers gather to bid farewell

Sat., Aug. 16, 2008, midnight

Music teacher heads for duty in Iraq

The signature squeal and wheeze of bagpipers tuning up sounded a special note of friendship Friday night on the South Hill.

Members of the Angus Scott Pipe Band gathered in a tree-shaded backyard to say goodbye and good luck to one of their own.

Joe Trudeau is on his way to Iraq.

An Army first lieutenant in the Washington National Guard, the 25-year-old music teacher leaves Spokane on Monday. He’s taking his bagpipes.

Things are happening fast for the class of 2002 Shadle Park High School Highlander. Thursday night, kneeling by a city overlook at Five Mile, he proposed to 21-year-old Kellie Conway. She said yes.

Friday night’s cookout/send-off party took place back behind bandmate Kenyon Fields’ house.

“You know those guys who are just straight-up reliable and dependable?” Fields said. “That’s Joe.”

Trudeau has been in the band since he was a teenager. “It’s a very supportive group and we have fun making music together,” he said.

Sporting the beginnings of a goatee that is not long for this world, the sandals-wearing intelligence officer good-naturedly answered the same questions over and over Friday night.

More than once, he slipped an arm around Conway.

He is well aware that he is headed for a war zone. But he said there’s part of him that will be glad to actually get to use his military training in a real-life situation.

All that seemed far away as preschool children careened around the yard, the quick hiss of bottles being opened filled the air and grillmaster Fields called out, “Who has their name on this burger?”

Trudeau, a Washington State University graduate, learned of his impending deployment last winter. Gradually, many of those who know him in Spokane and Chewelah, where he teaches, have found out. “But some of my students might not know until I’m not there this year.”

With the sun getting lower and second helpings disappearing, Fields spoke up. “Maybe we should crank it while all the neighbors are still awake,” he said.

Soon half a dozen pipers, men and women, had extracted their instruments from their cases. Staking out private positions in and around the yard, they produced a cacophony.

Trudeau tapped his foot as he tuned up.

Then, like a confused bunch of birds that suddenly remembered how to flock, they came together. One last time, at least for a while, Trudeau played music with his friends.

To some, because of their role in history, bagpipes can sound like harbingers of battle.

But Friday night on the South Hill, there was a different message: We’ll miss you, Joe. Come back.

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