On December 7th, 1941, on the coast of Oahu, those stationed at the naval installation of Pearl Harbor were unaware that they would soon become a part of history. Just before 8 AM, their lives were changed forever and many of them became forever engraved in America’s history. Among the 1,177 sailors who perished aboard the USS Arizona during Japan’s attack were a group of 21 notable heroes who were there for one reason – at 8 o’clock that morning, they were scheduled to ring in the morning with the national anthem.
The USS Arizona Band
Fred Kinney served as bandmaster to 20 fellow musicians who, in May of 1941, came together as Navy Band No. 22. Clyde Williams, Ralph Burdette, Oran Brabbzson, Wendell Hurley, Gerald Cox, and Jack Scruggs were all members of the band, each man bringing his own talents. Look back through the many records of the Pearl Harbor attack, of the stories that stemmed from the sinking of the Arizona and chances are you won’t find mention of these men, but they were there, and when the first bomb struck the Arizona, they became more than saxophone, drum, and trombone players.
Only moments before they were poised to play the crisp notes of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Navy Band No. 22 found itself amidst an unprecedented event – an aerial attack on an American naval base. Sirens blared through the air and the bandmembers dropped their instruments to join their fellow sailors in the defensive and retaliatory efforts against the Japanese. The 21 musicians manned their battle stations, where they implemented their training as ammunition handlers, and ferried gunpowder up to Turret No. 2.
Before long, Japanese fire focused on the turret and at approximately 0809, a fourth bomb penetrated the armor plating next to Turret No. 2. The Arizona began to sink, taking with her 1,177 sailors, including the USS Arizona band, members of the Navy’s only ensemble to have formed, trained, and eventually died together while in service.
Retelling Their Story
With so many tragic stories that stemmed from the attack on Pearl Harbor, that of Navy Band No. 22 was almost completely lost, but Molly Kent—sister of Clyde Williams—sought to keep their memory alive with her 1996 book USS Arizona’s Last Band.
Before being stationed on the Arizona, Navy Band No. 22 qualified for the Battle of Music, which featured 17 Navy bands and one Marine Corps Barracks band. On November 22nd, 1941, Kinney and his fellow musicians qualified for the finals, scheduled for December 20th. They may not have made it to those finals, but for their musical talents and military efforts during the most trying of times, the USS Arizona band will never be forgotten.