Navy Musicians Association

Howard Hare

(Webmaster's note: This recounting of the events surrounding December 7, 1941 is provided by Howard Hare, Mus/1c USN, as told to his son, Roger Hare.)

Of all the legends surrounding December 7, the story of USS Arizona Band 22 endures in a fog of semi-truth. Popular history presents a thumb-nail sketch: They were a hot-shot band that dominated the famous "Battle Of The Bands" competition. Adept at playing popular swing tunes, they were said to have won the Saturday, Dec. 6 finale. Their reward-sleeping late the next morning. All perished.

The real story is better and late in life, my Father revealed a personal connection to this legendary band.

Band 22 was, indeed, a hot-shot unit and they were favored to win the Battle of the bands competition. They did not, however, win the December 6 finale because, in truth, it wasn't scheduled until December 21. The Saturday finale was actually a semi-final round they did not play.

This unit band was not awarded the luxury of sleeping late on Sunday and if they had, General Quarters would take precedence over any privilege. In the Navy, a call to battle stations means "you too, Mister".

Unfortunately, their battle station was handling ammo in the forward powder magazine.

After December 7, the battle of the bands was cancelled and Band 22 proclaimed the winner by consent of the participants. The trophy was named for their ship and retired forever.

Somehow history has presented blissful sleep in victory as their demise instead of hard work at their battle station.

When I first learned of this band I asked my Father if he knew any members. He changed the subject. Then in 1995, my mother told me an author had contacted Howard and interviewed him about Band 22.

Molly Kent's Brother, Clyde Williams, perished with the group. Her research ("Arizona's Last Band") revealed an early band roster listing Howard Hare as a drummer. She contacted our family expecting second-hand memories and was surprised to speak with a live Howard. He helped explain their school experience as they were all classmates.

So he was in the band! What happened? He simply said "Yes I was assigned to the band but missed classes and practice time due to an illness, so when I arrived at the Arizona, they told me I'd been bumped to the West Virginia, Band 17." Same classmates, though."

Through a fluke, is my Father the only surviving member of Band 22? How could one graduating class produce so many bands?

The answer lies in the amazing class of 1941 Navy School of Music, Washington DC. This was a group that would suffer more than any other. A group current Fleet Bandmaster, Ralph Barrett, calls his "Navy Fathers".

CLASS OF '41 MOTHER OF ALL NAVY BANDS

Fleet unit band 17 of the USS West Virginia and Unit 22 of the Arizona were all trained in Washington DC at the Navy School of Music during the 1940-41 school year. The class of '41 was the largest class yet graduated from this school; Formed in 1935.

Numbered in sequence, the Navy school had produced bands 1-16 by 1940, but this class was different. Throughout the year more students were added until membership swelled to 160.

Students were put through a strict regimen until the "cream rose to the top". Boatswains Mate James M. Thurmond was the taskmaster under Director and founder, Charles Benter.

Thurmond tolerated no "show-boating" or individual flair. His stated purpose was "To put iron in the soul, steel in the muscles and seafaring sense in the head"

As students progressed, they were assigned to full 20-piece orchestras in a numbered band. This school trained all Navy bands, but unlike other billets, Sailor/Musicians stayed together for their entire hitch. A
group would train, then ship out in whole to a ship. If duty called elsewhere, they moved as one unit.

The reasoning for unit assignment was sound: Band mates learned others' playing skills and nuances and worked together much like an intricate watch. Cohesive playing and lasting friendships resulted.

All large Navy ships had a band - it was tradition. They played ceremonial functions and for the pleasure of the crew. Therefore, they must know traditional and popular music.

Band 17 was the class of '41, but rapid expansion meant it was soon large enough to support two full orchestras. Administration soon listed it as band 17/18. The leader for this class was Fred Kinney.

Kinney was a strict Bandmaster but his pupils were the best players. His technique? Drill the incompetent mercilessly.

Band leaders shipped-out with their students and anyone placed in Kinney's eventual billet were assured a good assignment-probably a battleship.

When rosters were listed, Fred Kinney was given Band 21 of the USS Tennessee. Howard was placed as a drummer. But something unusual happened on their way to Pearl Harbor that summer of '41-Band 21 of the
Tennessee suddenly became Band 22 of the Arizona.

The Bandmaster of the original Unit 22 was not happy with assignment to the Arizona. He had a relative stationed on USS Tennessee and in pre-Sullivan law Navy, he sought transfer to this ship. Would Kinney swap bands with him?

Fred Kinney had worked hard to place the best of the 1941 class in Band 21 and would not entertain the thought of losing them. Knowing the Navy would never change band assignments once made, a deal was struck-they would simply swap numbers. Band 21 was now Band 22 and vice versa.

Howard arrived at Pearl Harbor in the Summer of '41 and reported to the Tennessee only to be told to report to the Arizona. Here he was informed he wasn't needed: "Report to the West Virginia, Band 17" He was told. "Bandmaster T G Carlin will take care of you."

An illness had meant he had missed too much practice time and Fred Kinney decided he wasn't good enough for the new Band 22. Such are the vagaries of fate. My Father confessed "I thought I was the drummer for Band 21, and they all went off and died as Band 22.

The class of '41 populated Battleship row that Sunday morning. Musicians from the USS West Virginia, Oklahoma, Nevada and California became known as "Orphan bands". Band 22 of the USS Arizona was now a sad memory.

Most of these men were absorbed into newly formed code-breaking units. An interesting fact grasped by the Navy is that knowledge of music lends itself well to the rhythm of code-breaking.

Class of '41 survivors became early Pioneers in an elite unit responsible for deciphering the Japanese "purple" code. The Japanese Naval code remained elusive, but was eventually understood in fractions;
read much as a musician observes his part and understands its place in the whole composition.

The class of '41 helped win the war.

Band17 of the West Virginia remained as the only unit left intact. I suspect some Navy Official decided the class of '41 had suffered enough and a plum billet was granted-This band would run a R&R joint in Honolulu named "The Breakers" for the duration of the war.

The Breakers was little more than a large shack that catered to returning Sailors; Fresh from South Pacific battles. Band 17 played music, served food and beer, removed drunken Sailors and maintained the
structure. It sure beat a hot battle-zone.

Band 17 had lost their instruments aboard "WeeVee", so Hawaii natives were urged to donate any they could spare. Howard somehow managed to locate a Ludwig Super snare drum he kept his entire life.
(In later years a retired Ludwig worker restored it for him out of respect). Other band members were not so lucky and a motley assortment of instruments were the hallmark of this group.

Old equipment aside, this Fleet unit band was proud of its heritage and played with travelling Band leaders such as Artie Shaw when they passed through Hawaii in USO shows. The last playing members of the class of '41 had the time of their lives. Their only regret was Band mate Gene Lish had perished next to Howard on December 7 and wasn't there to enjoy their reward.

The class of 1941 was unique among Navy bands. It was the largest class and suffered more than any other. They were trained by a legend, Fred Kinney, whose sacrifice places him at the top of Naval music lore. They helped win the war through code-breaking efforts and in the end, their only musical survivors, WeeVee Band 17, played swing with the best Band leaders in the world; making life a little more enjoyable for weary Navy Vets. They were, indeed, the Fathers for all Navy musicians that followed and the Mother of all Fleet bands. The last surviving member, Keith Hill, died in 2005-shortly after Howard's passing.

 

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