1Early in the morning of 7 December 1941, bombs rained down over Pearl Harbor, headquarters of the United States Pacific Fleet. Four U.S. Navy battleships were sunk in the attack, and four others were damaged, along with three cruisers, three destroyers, a training ship and a minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 1,282 people were wounded, and 2,402 were killed.1 Among the personnel lost was the entire award-winning band of the USS Arizona, killed instantly at their battle stations.
2The Arizona’s reputation and history are well known and well established in national cultural memory, so much so that, in fact, this battleship is the only historical source mentioned in research on Navy musicians in the Second World War. My article does not discuss the Arizona or its band members (except indirectly), but rather the generation of U.S. Navy musicians that came after the Arizona band – recruits who were trained as naval musicians and sent out to sea on cruisers, destroyers, battleships and aircraft carriers even after the attack on Pearl Harbor decimated the United States Navy wartime population. I am working, rather, with less legendary examples, with a microhistory based on a small subset of historical data: that is, with the personal stories of five men, as gleaned from their correspondence. I use their letters to open a window onto a larger history, but my focus in this article is on the epistolary community the letters represent.
3I will discuss Navy musicians from the final years of World War II in four stages: basic training at Farragut Naval Training Station; specialized training at the U.S. Navy School of Music (hereafter USNSOM); deployment; and after the war. This is a story that has long gone overlooked – and one that remains unfortunately incomplete. My hope is that by bringing their lives a little more into the light, I will open doors for further research, and help to honor their memory.
- 2 Eddie Carden, “Musicians in the Military,” Halftime Magazine, May/June 2008. Available at <http://h (...)
- 3 Patrick Jones, A History of the Armed Forces School of Music, PhD dissertation (Penn State, 2002), (...)
4My project began with a small collection of letters to my grandfather, the knowledge of a band that had died at sea, and one practical question: Why would the U.S. Navy put musicians on board battleships? That question morphed into a larger one about the place of musicians in the military to begin with. Indeed, the question seems a paradox at first glance. “When you think military,” one journalist has written, “music is probably one of the last things that come to mind. In reality, though, the U.S. military is one of the largest employers of musicians in the country.”2 In fact, “[m]usic has serviced an important function in the military throughout American history. Military musicians have provided signals for combat, performed ceremonies, entertained troops, and rallied Americans to support various war efforts. In addition, they have taken up arms to fight, and even [given] their lives in defense of the country.”3
5Though music may be far from the forefront of thought when considering the armed forces, the presence of musicians in the U.S. military has been a reality since at least 1756, when “the artillery regiment commanded by Colonel Benjamin Franklin marched with over a thousand men accompanied by fife-players and other musicians.”4 In the Navy, the first band per se is attested anecdotally in 1812, when
the American frigate United States acquired an eight-piece band of French-Italian musicians who had enlisted aboard a French ship, but were captured by the Portuguese and taken to Lisbon.5
- 6 U.S. Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, Bicentennia (...)
Patrick Jones explains that “[t]he Navy Band program was at its peak during World War II with 6,800 musicians serving in approximately 285 bands based on ships and shore establishments.” (Jones, 96) That means that the musicians represented 0.16% of the total force of the U.S. Navy (4,183,000 sailors altogether, according to the U.S. Census Bureau6) during the war years.
6Before we enter the musicians’ combat zone, though, we will move toward the life of a musician at sea, as they did: from the naval training station to the U.S. Navy School of Music, and, finally, to the experience of receiving a post-training assignment. Each of these phases provides some basic background information. For more specific details, I will quote from the small collection of letters I found in my grandfather’s papers – seven letters from four men who knew my grandfather during Basic Training and kept in touch as they went on to their next assignments.
7Let me first introduce the player whose letters I do not have. His fellow musicians called him “Pete.” Pete’s full name was Fred Roy Peters, Sr., Musician 2/c (1918-1998). He played saxophone and clarinet in the U.S. Navy Hospital Band at Farragut. The few letters that remain in my possession, with information about his life at Farragut and the lives of his fellow military musicians — spread out across the map of the U.S.A., the South Pacific and the Atlantic — provide a unique view of the American wartime experience. I will quote from these letters, as well as from the oral history of a veteran who played jazz and swing with my grandfather after the war, and augment this personal glimpse with research in historical sources, government documents and USNSOM information. Along the way I will pose questions about the role of the military musicians and their place both in the war and in the acts of cultural memory around and after the war. Although this project is very germinal, and the correspondence (alas) very incomplete, I hope to present the beginnings of a different “variety of experience” altogether, through this lens that is at once artistic and martial.
Figure 1: Farragut Naval Training Base Hospital Band
(“Pete” is the saxophone player in the front row, next to the piano)
8The men met at Farragut Naval Training Station, in Bayview, Idaho, U.S.A. – an important place to understand, since it anchors much of their correspondence and acquaintance in general. From 1942 to 1946 it was a major U.S. Navy base, named for Admiral David Farragut – the first admiral in the U.S. Navy and the leading naval officer during the Civil War (1861-1865). Farragut Naval Training Station, created after the attack on Pearl Harbor, held a special place in the training function of the war effort: some of its buildings were named for men or ships lost in the Hawaiian attack, and the recruits who trained there carried the haunting memory of the fallen comrades whose naval careers had preceded their own by just a few months.
- 7 Gayle Alvarez & Denis Woolford, Farragut Naval Training Station. In the Images of America series (C (...)
9Bayview, Idaho, may seem an odd choice for a naval training base, but the location — on the deepwater lake Pend Oreille — proved perfect for training naval recruits in submarine operations and basic marine survival. Moreover, it was far enough inland to be considered “safe” in the event of an attack on the Pacific coast. Henry Lewis Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War from 1940 to 1945, “desired to establish a naval training facility away from coastal areas, in his words, ‘far from coastal bombings.’”7 Construction began on the site on 23 April, 1942, and Farragut Naval Training Station welcomed its first naval recruits – called boots – on 17 September of that year.
Farragut was comprised of six separate camps, each camp accommodating 5,000 recruits and virtually self-sufficient with at least 20 barracks, a mess hall, administration building, parade grounds or drill field, sick bay and dispensary, recreation building, and a drill hall with a swimming pool (a recruit had to be able to swim in order to graduate). […] One of the station’s camps served as a service school for advanced training for sailors and some of the graduating recruits. It was designed to accommodate 7,500 students. (Alvarez & Woolford, 7)
10Farragut brought a bustle of activity to Northern Idaho: “Between its opening in September, 1942, and its decommissioning in June, 1946, this stunning expanse of 4000 acres served as temporary home to almost 300,000 naval recruits. [It was] briefly to become Idaho’s largest city”,8 but naval life in Idaho did not limit itself to the training station. Families from the nearby towns “kept” sailors. “WAVES (women naval officers) served as nurses at the base hospital.” The seamen – “Blue Jackets” – boosted the local economy, bringing their spending cash to town while on furlough (Alvarez & Woolford, 7). They took local girls to dances, movies and dinner, before heading wistfully back to base. Some of them fell in love, with local girls or with WAVES or nurses from the base.
- 9 Detail provided in letter from Jack Zimmanck, 19 October 1945.
11The musicians who corresponded with Pete met at one of Farragut’s six camps — Camp Bennion.9 They trained together, practiced together, ran together, swam together, learned to shoot together. They played music and baseball. Some of them wrestled. Some of them drank. They wrote letters home. Then they were sent off to their various assignments. Some went to the U.S. Navy School of Music in Washington, DC. From there they were assigned, some to battleships, some to transport ships, some to bases.
12Pete never left Farragut, though the time must have seemed perilous since the training base’s role was in near-constant flux, between the last class’s graduation, the transition of the station into a neuropsychiatric center and attendant relocation there of 800 German POWs, and the station’s impending decommissioning (begun in spring of 1946). Pete was ordered to report for induction in January of 1944. He lived in Hollywood, and was trying to make his break into the Los Angeles music scene when the official letter came from the President of the United States, by way of Los Angeles County Local Board number 42 of the Selective Service System. Bayview, Idaho, must have seemed a whole world away, and the change to life in the Navy a dangerous one indeed. But Pete, who was already an accomplished semi-professional musician, proved to be that rare case of a naval recruit who stayed at Farragut for the duration of the war. He would come to value the training station for several different reasons: first, it kept him from being shipped out to a combat zone; second, it kept him from leaving his family or moving them across the country to a different base; and finally, he learned from fellow recruits a level of musicianship that he would not find elsewhere, even at the School of Music. For all these reasons, “I would suggest you stay as long as possible,” one of his comrades advised him from the USNSOM. (Floyd Shell, letter of May 27, 1945) Another wrote, “hang on to Farragut as long as you can.” (Oscar P. Pullman, “Red,” letter of 19 July 1945).
13And, in truth, in 1944-45 his assignment could have been a lot worse. Pete had probably imagined the sort of band he would be assigned to at the naval training station — a generic kind of group, that would play for Colors (raising or lowering of the flag), parade marches, dances, official visits, etc.. He may even have imagined more “professional”-seeming performances, evening events when the band would play a special program of music in Farragut’s well-equipped main auditorium. “In January 1944, the station band department was formed and comprised all station bands and orchestras. Two bands were to play every night, and on Saturday, each band was to play in some part of the station. Even the hospital had a band.” (Alvarez & Woolford, 79) Pete was assigned to the Hospital Band.
14I have paused on Pete’s assignment because, as he did not transfer to the USNSOM or deploy, his stationary status at Farragut allowed him to act as a fulcrum of communication for the other musicians with whom he corresponded. As we shall see later, the sense of connectedness and community this fulcrum represented proved important to all who wrote to him.
- 10 Indeed, during the twenty-nine years that I knew Pete, I never once heard him speak about the war.
- 11 See Molly Kent, USS Arizona’s Last Band: The History of U.S. Navy Band Number 22 (Kansas City, USA: (...)
15I came to this story only years after the only witness I knew had died, taking all his memories with him.10 I realized, while reading letters saved in an old cigar box, that I had found treasure both familial and historical; and I began to research the USNSOM, the status of musicians in the U.S. Navy during WWII, the work of being an artist stationed on a battleship or a base in the Pacific during a time of war. Critical sources on the subject are few; the only book available is a tribute to the band that perished on the USS Arizona the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack.11
16So the work of trying to understand the uniqueness of a musicians’ unit’s wartime experience has been a work of reconstruction, using sources who by and large hold their tongues. The men who wrote scattered after the war, and I do not know how many of them kept in touch beyond the end of their deployment in the Navy. Letters tell one kind of story, as any reader of epistolary novels will tell you, and for other details, we can turn to other kinds of sources. One of the challenges of researching musicians in the Second World War, however, is that historical material tends to be scant and even secondary. To take one example, it was only in 2009 that a book about Farragut was published, after the Naval Training Station had been closed for sixty-five years.
- 12 Gayle Alvarez, Webmaster and Secretary, Idaho Military History Museum, interview, 18 May 2010.
17Still, we know some basics. Daily training would include “class-room instruction, rifle ranges, the boat docks with rowing drills, personnel and quarter inspections”. (Alvarez & Woolford, 7) For the musicians, practice and rehearsal time had to fit in with all the other scheduled elements of basic training. According to Gayle Alvarez of the Idaho Military History Museum (and co-author of the commemorative book on Farragut), the bands’ practice would most likely have taken place in the evening hours — that is, after 4.30 pm when the official day’s training ended — but this information has not been recorded.12 Thus we have our first exposure to the real tension in the life of a military musician. The bands’ formation and musical training was important to Farragut — they were on many occasions the most visible (and audible) representation of military “spirit,” and held the formidable public goal of, as a Farragut News article of 1943 put it, “keep[ing] spirits high by keeping the instruments hot” (quoted in Alvarez & Woolford, 79) — yet this training fell secondary, in an official sense, to the basics of learning about military life.
- 13 Bernard Bruckert, interview, 15 March 2010.
- 14 MUC Mike Bayes, email of 30 April 2009.
- 15 MUC Bayes, interview, 17 May 2010.
18To some degree, this tension is the reason that the military musicians have received less critical attention through history than other groups within the Armed Forces. Though they joined the Navy with a musician’s responsibilities, and earned a musician’s designation (Musician, second-class — “Mus 2/c” — once they had completed training and were assigned to a base or a ship), their work within the musical corps seems to have been considered in some way “extracurricular.” Of course, in a time of war, soldiers of any rank and in all branches of the armed forces were called upon to perform military duties first and foremost, cultural ones second. As Bernard Bruckert, a musician and veteran, told me, “You perform your specialty, but at the same time you’re fighting a war.”13 Therefore, their work as musicians has not been documented or studied as faithfully as have other kinds of service in the military. Chief Musician Mike Bayes, head archivist at the US Navy School of Music, only recently established the archival department of the School of Music. About the lack of history, he wrote, “Unfortunately, over the course of time the Navy has not done a very good job of preserving our history. However, over the past couple of years we, here at the band, have tried very hard to reverse that course. Because of the limited resources, we are left to connect some very ‘faded’ dots.”14 This oversight in recording history comes in part from the fact that the “Navy doesn’t keep stuff, because there is limited space on ships”15 — a systemic issue, especially before the advent of digital technology and virtual archives. The material question, then, goes hand-in-hand with the larger ideological question about the place of musicians in the military.
19That larger question is in part why the School of Music was founded. Patrick Jones points out the difficulty of discerning “exactly how many instrumental musicians were in the Navy prior to 1825 because records simply indicated that sailors were ‘seamen.’”(Jones, 68) In the first years of the 20th century, one naval officer would seek to correct this omission. Lt. Charles Benter (1887-1964) had the distinction of being the first officer commissioned in Navy music. Benter “joined the Navy as an apprentice musician in 1905, playing saxophone and bassoon, and he became a bandmaster [of the battleship Connecticut16] at the age of 19.”17 He was the youngest man ever to become bandmaster in the Navy.18 Back from ship duty, he became leader of the Washington Navy Yard Band, which he spent concentrated efforts consolidating as an official part of the U.S. Navy. On 4 March 1925, thanks in part to Benter’s efforts, “a special act of Congress […] established the Navy Band as the Navy’s permanent representative band and authorized the leader of the Navy Band to receive the pay and allowance of Lieutenant.”19 As leader of the newly christened Navy Band, Benter created the first official Navy School of Music, organized in 1935.
- 20 MUC Bayes, interview, 17 May 2010.
20Benter’s objectives in organizing a centralized Navy School of Music included “establish[ing] a system for training bands” and “avoid[ing] a ‘hodge-podge’ of musicians”20 who would sign up for music duty in order to get out of other forms of service. The bands from the School of Music, in Benter’s vision, would both train and transfer together, so that ships too would have coherent units with no gaps in formal artistic training. This program “brought stability and a coordinated, organized, and sustained band program to the Navy for the first time in history”. (Jones, 72) Benter wanted musicians on board ships who would understand their inherently dual function — who would leap to battle-stations when necessary but pick up their instruments and launch into a morale-boosting tune once the immediate danger had passed.
- 21 MUC Bayes, interview, 17 May 2010.
21Benter also faced, even as early as the 1930s, the question of the “role” or “function” of musicians in the military. His aim was to “push” music, to give it an objective valid for both wartime and peacetime: the objective of cultural diplomacy. “The real function of military music is to provide morale for the GIs,” as Bayes said, but then again, “music provides a lot more than just entertainment.”21 A U.S. State Department document from 2005 makes this mission explicit:
- 22 Report of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy. “Cultural Diplomacy: the Linchpin of Public (...)
It is in cultural activities that a nation’s idea of itself is best represented. And cultural diplomacy can enhance our national security in subtle, wide-ranging, and sustainable ways. Indeed history may record that America’s cultural riches played no less a role than military action in shaping our international leadership […] For the values embedded in our artistic and intellectual traditions form a bulwark against the forces of darkness.22
- 23 Bruckert, interview, 15 March 2010.
22Music, therefore, also offers a glimpse of the national traditions, narratives and histories that buoy a people’s spirits during the suffering of war. And it provides a clear, anthemic version of the national story that sustains the patriotism of both soldiers and civilians, even when they might feel their war-driven energies flagging. Again, Bernard Bruckert testified to the truth of this morale objective: “[The bands] were pretty popular with the people. Everybody danced in those days … and they danced with each other, when we played.”23 In this sense, music was used as propaganda, and the musicians who played it were instruments themselves of a national message. The letters I examine in this article show an individual message that was strongly in conflict with the institutional one, the official propaganda of the United States Armed Forces promoting involvement in the war.
23In the earliest days of the USNSOM, the Navy faced some opposition regarding the school from a different quarter altogether. Its very existence was attacked by the musicians union before it had even begun classes.” (Jones, 156) The union representative, A.C. Hayes, wrote to the Secretary of the Navy to express concern of the decision to start the school. “He believed the Navy should hire professional musicians who were already unemployed, [and] that the school would serve to ‘aggravate the desperate economic condition of the American professional musician.’” (Jones, 156-57)
24Inevitably, the functions — martial and musical — were occasionally at odds with one another. Jones cites a veteran, “Dutch” Albert, who was on board the USS Pennsylvania during the attack on Pearl Harbor:
Instead of playing colors, why we went to run back through the ship to sound general alarm. But before we did that, very foolishly, we all had our own instruments. We were like … “I’m making $21.00 a month” and you buy a $150.00 clarinet; well, you’re gonna take care of that sucker, you know. So we started putting it in the case. And the first plane that came in the Channel is strafing. And here we’re putting these instruments in the cases and the paint is chipping off the turret above our heads — the paint flakes are hitting us in the face! [But] I was gonna take care of it [the clarinet]. (Jones, 87)
25Unlike the band members of the USS Arizona, the musicians of the Pennsylvania survived Pearl Harbor. But the musicians’ instinct was in conflict with the seamen’s instinct, as they struggled to protect both their lives and their artistic livelihood. Nevertheless, reactions to this dilemma could vary. Later, in 1945, the band of the USS Franklin acted in exactly the opposite fashion: the ship “was crippled and listing to one side, [and] the musicians manned their battle stations and fought fires, losing five members. After about two hours of fighting they salvaged some instruments and improvised a show ‘through the fire and water and muck’ of the charred flight deck in order to inspire their crewmates.” (Jones, 214)
- 24 Bernard Bruckert, interview, 15 March 2010.
26Bruckert elaborated that “there were bands everywhere: in training stations, big bases, hospitals, you name it.”24 These bands had to be trained, and their training became a part of the war effort in the years between 1942 and 1945. The U.S. Navy School of Music was “responsible for training, staffing, assigning, and equipping” 285 Navy Bands and 6800 Navy musicians around the globe during the war.” (Jones, 208) Once at the School, recruits could expect a rigorous and diverse training schedule. “The very nature of a Navy band on ship demanded that the students needed to learn to be versatile musicians. They might be playing ceremonial music in the morning, a concert in the afternoon, and a dance in the evening. Thus, all students were required to play at least two instruments and in a variety of styles such as: symphonic works, patriotic pieces, martial music, Americana, and jazz music.” (Jones, 181) Molly Kent specifies some of the training her brother Clyde (one of the USS Arizona musicians) underwent in his time at the School of Music: “Classes were convened and dismissed by bugle calls, [and] all students must know the various bugle calls and all cornet players must be able to play those calls.” Further, “Practice on their musical instruments was mandatory. The students were required to study at least one-half hour in preparation for their next recitation classes. They must practice one hour each day on their major instrument and a half-hour on their minor instrument.” (Kent, 57) During World War II, and in contrast to the pre-war process of recruiting students for the School, musicians “were selected from recruit training centers instead of directly from civilian life” (Jones, 183) — thus we understand how the recruits from Farragut got to Washington, DC.
- 25 Charles Benter, Lieutenant, USN, Excerpts from “Station Orders,” Receiving Station, Washington, D.C (...)
27The curriculum itself demanded that students have both a major and a minor instrument, that they perform in ensembles, and that they take classes in music history and music theory. Benter had outlined suggested courses and curricula in his proposal to found the School, reflecting the School’s approach to training its musicians, which was “serious and tough.” (Kent, 56) The daily routine was no more lenient — especially as years went on and the numbers of students increased dramatically. The day at the USNSOM began at 7 am. At 3.55 the schedule reads “Knock off work,” and at 4.05, “Students begin practice.”25 This schedule must have meant serious adjustment for some of the students. Those coming from Farragut, for example, were used to early mornings and exhausting days — but their official responsibilities were finished by 4.30 pm and although some recruits had special evening assignments, in rotation, by and large their time after training was their own. But at the School, their time after the day’s responsibilities involved still more responsibilities. Liberty was precious.
28Floyd Shell, Mus 2/c, went from Farragut to the U.S. Navy School of Music, and from there to the USS West Point #112. In a letter postmarked 7 May 1945, he wrote about his experiences at the School of Music, and highlighted the difficulties of adapting to this new setting:
- 26 All quotations from Floyd Shell refer to his letter to Fred R. Peters, Mus 2/c, 7 May 1945.
Thought perhaps you may be interested in what has happened back here at this hell hole. First of all, I dont want to bring you down but this place is everything they said it was only worse […] Its actually worse than boot camp, and on top of that, its infested with ‘would be musicians’ who are definitely ‘cube heads’ of the first water. Boy, we thought Farragut was the last word in petty shit but this place has them all skinned.26 [sic.]
- 27 Shell’s epithet might also speak to the difference in attitude toward participation in the propagan (...)
29While the letter does not speak specifically to the musical challenges Shell faced at the USNSOM, it does provide evidence of certain musicians’ mentality about their upcoming assignments. Shell was hardly impressed with his new classmates, whom he found “square” and probably overly committed to being company men (my best understanding of “cube head”).27 His letter also details the few highlights of life at the School of Music.
The only good thing here is the chow, (which is really wonderful) & the fact that there are 8 women to every man — They actually whistle at you & thats a fact. The liberties are good too — Me — ok Im still on that wonderful kick combination of whiskey & women — well, lets say booze & sex — ah me — what a wonderful combination — plenty of sex here. [sic.]
30The highlights end there. Shell recommends that Pete stay away from the School of Music and any duty more active than being a member of the Hospital Band at Farragut. “I would suggest you stay at Farragut as long as possible, & then when [Officer-in-Charge James] Thurmond’s breath gets warm on your ships service hair cut, - spring load your ass for the psychiatrist & AV & pull the string. This place would drive you nuts.” Toward the end of the letter, he continues this thread: “try your damndest to by-pass this place — even if it takes a mental case —”.
31One reason advising Pete to stay at Farragut is some troubling news Shell has recently heard. “Rumor has it that 8 more bands will be formed next week to go [out on battleships]. Buxton, the trumpet man is replacing the 1st man on the USS Tennessee, who was killed & is Bux unhappy. Cant say as I blame him — I’d hate to sit in a dead mans chair & have the fellows in the band call me Joe or Jack or Jim for the 1st couple weeks.” Shell’s discontentment with the situation of military musicians does not end with this imagined scenario. After signing his letter (“Musically, Floyd”), he adds an addendum: “Ah yes, Pete, they are now putting IV piece bands on light cruisers. — Pretty soon they will be putting a piano, sax, (alto) & drums on Destroyer escorts or PT boats — Shit asses.”
32So, according to this letter, Shell’s dissatisfaction with the School of Music has three main causes. The first is an aesthetic judgment — about the musical ability of the recruits with whom he would take classes and train in a practice band. The second is a more humane judgment — the recognition of the difficulty of “sit[ting] in a dead man’s chair” in a ship band that had already coalesced and trained but lost one or some of its members. And the third, the disappointment of realizing that his musician’s status did not guarantee him a “safe ride” through the war, though his wording makes it clear he had believed otherwise.
33Like Shell, Oscar P. “Red” Pullman wrote to Pete from the USNSOM after leaving Farragut. Unlike Shell, Pullman had already been at both the School of Music and on ship assignment when he wrote. Pullman is also somewhat less bitter about his SOM experience. His account of the transition between training-station life, School-of-Music life, and shipside life — especially in terms of expectations — speaks to the real eye-opening experiences Navy life held for these young musicians.
- 28 All quotations from Pullman are from his letter to Fred Peters, dated 19 July 1945.
I took two days delayed orders and went straight to D.C., where I had four days to look the town over before I had to report in. Enjoyed rubber-necking around town taking in everything from the Washington Monument to some of the better (?) beer-joints. I reported in a day ahead of the rest of them, as they all had three days delayed orders, and consequently got started in the school routine a day ahead of them. After taking a week getting squared away — being assigned a trumpet teacher, classes etc. I was put in a practise band; one of thirteen practise bands they have there.28
34Pullman’s arrival in Washington, D.C. and his experience getting settled in at the School of Music “ahead of the rest of them” might have prepared him for the isolation of his position. “I was the only one of the old outfit in my particular practise band,” he writes, “while Fisher, Brown, Lasseigne, Gumbrecht and McElwain were all put in the same band.” Still, nothing prepared him for the news he learned soon after: “A shipping-out band was made up to go to the [USS] Indiana. And imagine my surprise to find myself going to sea on a battlewagon. Of course I knew I was ‘Special Assignment’ and would not get anything like that! Yuck! Yuck! And you can imagine what the other S.A.s thought.” These recruits (apparently) entered the School of Music with a promise, however anecdotal, that they would be assigned somewhere “safe” — perhaps a naval base, or a transport ship in the Atlantic theater (where the war was officially over). Instead, many of them found themselves shipping out to the Pacific, where conflicts continued well into 1945. Pullman was not the only one to be assigned to a battleship: “While the rest of them were offering me condolences, I’ll be damned if a band wasn’t made up for the Massachusetts and Fisher, Brown, etc. found themselves in it.”
- 29 Quotations from Hayes refer to his letter to Fred Peters, dated 4 July 1945.
35Pullman’s letter mentions one of the band members not assigned to a battleship. “McElwain was scratched when they found out he didn’t know which end of a clarinet to blow in. He’ll probably spend the rest of the war in school trying to find out.” Here, we can see an echo of Floyd Shell’s description of the School of Music recruits as “would be musicians” extended to its full wartime significance — that is, young men who signed up for the School of Music on the understanding that doing so would help them avoid combat duty. According to Mike Bayes, this case would have been an exception, since in founding the School of Music Lt Benter sought explicitly to do away with the image of musicians in the Navy as somehow less military or less active than other officers — or less talented than other musicians. Still, the notion persists that USNSOM musicians — would-be or otherwise — were mediocre at best. Richard Lee Hayes, in a letter dated 4 July 1945, writes to Pete, “We have a good band and that is most unusual here as most all of them they send out is just like the one you hear there. Help!”29
36It would probably be unwise to conclude that this commentary indicates a lack of any musical training or quality at the USNSOM. Rather, I think we can attribute the remarks about quality to two very different causes. On the one hand, the men Pete corresponded with tended to be, like him, professional or semi-professional musicians, artists by both training and nature, who had a high standard for musical performance. Anything other than what they had come to expect in the business — whether they were trying to make it in Hollywood on the radio-show circuit, or in St Louis on the Midwest jazz circuit — jarred them as substandard. On the other hand, the perceived decrease in quality might well be a real phenomenon related to the fact of the increase in both numbers of students and the pace getting students through the curriculum of the School of Music so they could be assigned to ships. With the build-up of all Armed Forces personnel during the war, the USNSOM’s graduation quota increased in mere months from 40 to 80 students per year, then to 160, then to 368. In addition, instruction time was cut from two years to eighteen months in 1940, then cut again from eighteen months to 52 weeks in 1941. “[T]he school, which was designed to train 88 musicians for a two-year period and only graduat[e] 40 students per year, was now training nine times that number of students in half the time. All of this happened within the first six years of the school’s existence.” (Jones, 170)
37Moreover (and this might be the only viable response to A.C. Hayes’ letter to the Secretary of the Navy requesting that the Navy employ out-of-work professional musicians instead of creating new competition in these recruits), it would likely have been frustrating, for young professionals who had already been making their way in the music world, to have to follow a different set of orders and conform to the strictures of military life. It could also be that these young men wrote to each other to complain about their assignments, experiences and colleagues as any students of any age might do, perhaps even out of kindness to Pete, who had stayed behind and was missing out on the excitement of life in the nation’s capital. For, beyond the drudgery of classes and practice time, musicians at the School of Music had other special jobs in and around D.C. that livened up their days (and nights): bond-drives, inaugural parades, and events where they were asked to perform for President Roosevelt. “Roosevelt enjoyed music at events,” Bayes explained. The President’s fondness for lively rhythms and melodies during official functions would ensure that the bands of the USNSOM got regular exposure to the political machine of the city, and regular visibility by a public grateful for their contributions to the war effort.
38One key element of Shell’s and Pullman’s letters is the importance of giving news about fellow musicians. These details show the music units — despite both their grumbling about assignments or musicianship, and their widely disparate assignments — as a real community, invested in maintaining lines of communication.
- 30 Hayes’ list reads as follows: “Hurley – Panama – (Great). Hayes – Detroit – (Greater). Rekis – U.S. (...)
39In a letter from 4 July 1945, Richard Hayes wrote out a list (of nearly one and a half pages)30 for Pete of “where everyone went,” with commentary on the assignments [see Figure 2]:
Figure 2: Letter excerpt from Richard Hayes
40Hayes’s list, notably, hierarchizes assignments in terms of quality: bases in North America are “great”; ships headed for the Atlantic theatre (where the Allies had already claimed Victory in Europe) are “pretty good”; ships headed for the Pacific theatre (where battles continued to rage and the engagement with the Japanese became more and more brutal with each passing week) are “sad” or “bad.”
41Oscar Pullman was one of those sent to the Pacific theatre. His July 19th letter details certain aspects of his life on the USS Indiana.
The size of the Indiana had me baffled for awhile but I know my way around it fairly well now. I’m very glad to say that we have a chance to play every day, either rehearsing or for the crew. The band is starting to shape up fairly well. Besides playing, we have a few other chores to perform. We have watches to stand in what is called Damage Control. They are not bad except for the fact that the time in my sack has been curtailed somewhat.
- 31 All, Bruckert, interview, 15 March 2010.
42 “Band performances were an important component of morale aboard ship. Typical performances on an aircraft carrier included the concert band on the flight deck, the swing band in the hangar deck, and combos in the ready room. They also performed ceremonies for special events, burials at sea, and as back-up bands for USO entertainers.” (Jones, 89-90) Musicians on board ships had responsibilities other than just playing. They had battle-stations and shipside duties: some of them were stretcher carriers, some worked with instruments on the navigation deck. Bernard Bruckert, for example, was assigned to the navigation department of the USS Hornet. He usually stood watch in an eight-hour shift, 4 pm to midnight. While on watch, his responsibilities would include passing on and enforcing the captain’s orders when General Quarters sounded, at which point the shipmates had “so many minutes to shut the ship down so all compartments would be water tight.” He would also pass along the order to fire all weapons – as he did during the Hornet’s 12 June 1944 attack on Guam. He added wryly: “They put us [the musicians] up on the navigation deck because they figured musical training would help us – that we would be good with our hands, quick learners, etc. You know, we already played one kind of instrument, so this was just another kind of instrument.” Finally, he added, “I’d much rather have been on 20-millimeter machine guns, because you’re busy all the time — not sitting around waiting to get hit.”31
43The USS Indiana, Oscar Pullman’s assigned “battlewagon,” was instrumental in the war in the Pacific. It was the second of the South Dakota class battleships, commissioned on 30 April 1942 and put into immediate action as a member of the United States Pacific fleet.32 From 17 March to 14 September of 1945, the Indiana operated between Okinawa and Tokyo Bay. It survived a typhoon [on 5 June 1945] that caused damage to several other battleships in the Pacific, including the Hornet, the Pittsburgh, and the Duluth. After 3 solid months of strikes against the Japanese home islands, on 2 September 1945 the Japanese formally surrendered, and WWII was (almost) officially over. Indiana was the first ship to return to the United States from Tokyo Bay after the surrender of Japan. Pullman glosses this activity in his letter: “Lately we have been making headlines, so they tell us, accompanying carriers whose planes have been striking at Tokyo and later, bombarding Kamaishi, about 275 miles north-east of Tokyo. Hasn’t been as exciting as one would think, reading about it. Which is okay with me.”
44Like Pullman, Bruckert saw combat in the South Pacific during the final months of the war. Bruckert, a trumpetplayer, served in the Navy from 1942 to 1948. On the recommendation of the Navy recruitment officer, he applied to the School of Music after boot camp. He was accepted.
45“I didn’t like the School of Music,” Bruckert said in our interview. The musicians had liberty one out of four nights, and would go to the USO for hamburgers and drinks after their days of rehearsal and training. “But I found out that if I made the baseball team, I’d get every night liberty,” he added. He practiced — both music and sports — and made the team. Upon completion of his SOM training, Bruckert was assigned to a ship based in Norfolk, Virginia: the 2nd USS Hornet CV-12, which got its name when the first USS Hornet (CV-8) was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942.33 On 15 March 1944, the newly christened Hornet CV-12 left Pearl Harbor for the Pacific Theatre. “For the next 18 months, HORNET would never tie-up at a pier. For fourteen of those months, HORNET would be in the most forward areas of the Pacific war — sometimes within 40 miles of the Japanese home islands.”34
46The USS Hornet band had two specific purposes onboard: playing music, and participating in the ship’s smooth functioning and maintenance, especially in times of attack. They played at social gatherings, officers’ dances, ship functions … and they secured the ship against kamikazes. According to Bruckert, the ship experienced an average of 12 kamikaze attacks per day. Their regular job entailed getting up between 3 and 4 am, having breakfast, and then heading to battle stations on the hangar deck. The Hornet’s trajectory in 1944-45 took it through the (as yet unsecured) Philippine Islands, the Marianas Islands, and the Bonins Islands. The ship raided the coast of China, and participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, before returning to Tokyo in February of 1945 to help prepare the Japanese terrain (at Tokyo and Okinawa) for the Marine invasion that would ultimately lead to the war’s end.35
47During all of this, the Hornet’s band kept busy. “We were at battle stations every day,” Bruckert emphasized. Especially if the carrier group “was attacking someplace like Okinawa, where it was overcast and we couldn’t see the Japanese planes.” At Okinawa, two kamikazes went into the carrier beside the Hornet, and “everything was blowing up all over the place … We had fourteen or fifteen hundred casualties. Your repair people are fighting fires everywhere and trying to stay alive at the same time.” Bruckert made a contrast with bands on bases and bands on ships: “Their thing was to play music,” he said. “Ours was to play music and duck.”
- 36 An echo of “Dutch” Albert’s clarinet during the Pearl Harbor attack.
- 37 Chief Musician Mike Bayes echoes the bass-fiddle anecdote with another story of a band in Guam. Rea (...)
48Life on board for the musicians was a continual back-and-forth between martial and musical energies. “When destroyers came in to refuel and reoil, the band would play on the hangar deck and mike the music over to the ships,” Bruckert explained. Ropes attached the destroyers to the carrier, and these were cut with an axe whenever General Quarters sounded, so the crew of the aircraft carrier could secure it and the destroyers could get away and help fight off an attack. The musicians had to cut the ropes and run back to battle stations when a new kamikaze plane threatened to attack the ship. “We did that one day for 8 times,” Bruckert said. “We didn’t play a note. And somebody pushed a plane over the bass fiddle!”36 But, “that’s just tough luck,” Bruckert added. “An incidental thing.” During kamikaze attacks, “we kept running down there (to the hangar deck) to try to play for the destroyers.” “People say ‘Oh, you were a musician — what did you do?’ and I say, ‘Nothing’,” Bruckert told me. “It’s tongue in cheek,” he added quickly. “We played when we could.” The artistic outlet — and the cultural diplomacy side of their function aboard ship — became a secondary responsibility during attacks. “If you get a torpedo or something, you have to put your horn down and figure out how to seal that leak up with a mattress,” he said. “I don’t remember how we got it all back, got everything working — like the bass fiddle — but it always worked.”37
49Like the young fellows who corresponded with Pete, Bruckert went into the Navy with certain ideas. “Some of us — when we joined, we talked to our fathers who’d been in World War I,” he said. The wartime experiences — including the question of duration and discharge — proved so different from the previous generation’s that he, like many others, experienced severe disillusionment. Bruckert spent eighteen months on the Hornet, including the time when the ship was repaired in San Francisco after the 5 June 1945 typhoon that battered the carrier with 60-foot waves. “Then,” Bruckert said, telescoping the summer months into one moment, “they dropped the atom bomb and we knew the war was over.” Still, the men were not discharged. “[A]t the end of the war it was an occupation problem,” he explained. Units had to be assigned to maintain security in newly secured regions — like the Philippines, the Marianas Islands and Guam. At this point, the bands would play for separation ceremonies. “We played ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ for guys who were getting out, and we weren’t getting out,” he said.
- 38 Jack Zimmanck, letter to Fred Peters, 19 October 1945.
50Not all musicians were assigned to ships. Jack W. Zimmanck, the final correspondent with Pete, was sent to Guiuan Samar in the newly liberated [from Japanese occupation] Philippine Islands. On 19 October 1945, Zimmanck wrote, “This place sure makes me wish I was back there now. All we have out here is heat, bugs, jungle and a few native villages that have an odor not unlike an old outhouse much used but never moved.” Zimmanck’s two letters mention the hardship of life on an outpost-base, in terms of both daily life and musical achievement. “We have quite a stinky little band and at the present time we have been out just long enough for the fellows to start getting [at] each others throats.”38 [See Figure 3]
Figure 3: Letter excerpt from J.W. Zimmanck, Sr.: “We have quite a stinky little band…”
- 39 Both, Jack Zimmanck, letter to Fred Peters, 17 November 1945.
51Zimmanck writes a second letter, dated 17 November 1945, during the period when he is waiting to be discharged from service. “This is my happy home for now. Its really quite a hole and you sure can be thankful you stayed where you are. You may have a sad band, but you didn’t come halfway around the world to play with a stinker like I did.” He then responds to news that Pete has recently sent, adding a mournful tone to the news of a Farragut comrade’s death: “Visley it sure is a sad message to hear about him. I always had quite a regard for his ability.”39 This letter provides more detail about his life on Guiuan Samar, everything from the quality of his band, to the quality of the food, even including the “quality” of the local women. “You remember how we used to complain about food at Farragut brother you should get a load of the junk we get here. If anyone mentions Spam or de-hydrated foods to me when I get home they sign their death warrant.”
52He also tries to describe life in this foreign place, with its different norms and understandings. Zimmanck explains that he has been taking “quite a few pictures” (he includes one of himself in front of the Quonset hut his team built) and adds, “I would like to be able to show you them some time. There are things I’m sure you wouldn’t believe unless you saw them.” With the combat part of the war over, the sailors had time to get acquainted with local cultures and peoples. In some instances this created a true culture clash: “The people are not immoral its just that they accept things different […] they don’t have the same conception of things as we do. Most are quite religious, but cleanliness is not one of their virtues and disease is quite prevalent.” He recounts the example of a fellow he knew who “turned in with some sort of sickness and when the girl was brought in it was found she was a ‘Leper.’ ” The sailor had to remain quarantined in the Philippines for seven years to verify his level of immunity (or contagion). Zimmanck explains that the radio in Guiuan Samar even plays ads about the dangers of promiscuity. “I’ve had a little laugh thinking how it would go over in the States. ‘Do not have relations with natives but if you must use a rubber and visit your nearest Pro-station at once’ … How would that sound on C.B.S. or N.B.C.”
53Zimmanck’s letter closes with a nostalgic reminder that Pete’s wife, Rose, has issued a standing invitation to come over for spaghetti and that he, Zimmanck, intends to take her up on it when he gets home. “I hope it will be very soon,” he writes. However, at the end of this letter he provides his address — still on Guiuan Samar — and his official designation — Mus 2/c — and this is the last correspondence trace from him. He had not apparently earned his Mus 1/c rating by November 1945, nor been discharged and allowed to return to the States as he had hoped.
54“What did you do when you got out of the Navy?” I asked Bernard Bruckert. He answered simply: “I got a job.” Bruckert worked for Douglas Aircraft for a time, as a spot-welder — “they had a band,” he specified — and he made contacts in the world of the part-time musician, putting a band together and going on the road. Today, at age 86, Bruckert continues to work part-time as a consultant, and to play his trumpet in gigs around southern California.
- 40 Jack W. Zimmanck, Jr., interview, 22 May 2010.
55I spoke with Jack W. Zimmanck, Jr., the son of Pete’s colleague who wrote from Guiuan Samar. Zimmanck Sr. died in 1980. “When my dad got out of the war, the world had changed,” Zimmanck Jr. said.40 Zimmanck Sr. had been a band leader before the war, doing the circuit of Kansas City, St Louis, Chicago and other larger towns in the American Midwest, leading a 10-piece big-band combo. “Those no longer existed after the war,” said Zimmanck Jr.: “Jazz had come along.” Zimmanck Sr. — whose instruments included saxophone, clarinet, all woodwinds, and even the violin — played for a time at the local club, and sang, too, but he was never truly a musician again. “He missed it a great deal,” his son added. “That was his calling.” When I asked if Zimmanck Sr. ever spoke with his family about the war, his son answered in the negative. “It wasn’t like the conversation you’d have between two guys that had been there. It was more anecdotes about funny things, odd things — more about the way people see themselves and how that changed. But they didn’t want to talk about the violence.” Still, one of the funny/odd things Zimmanck Sr. shared with his son was a photo of himself, with a group of Philippine head-hunters, holding up a Japanese head.
56As Zimmanck’s postwar experiences attest, the readjustment to civilian life carried its own diverse burdens once World War II ended. Milton A. Russo, a percussionist from Oakland, California, in a letter dated April 23, 1945, wrote to Pete about the difficulties of starting over in the world after the military.
I have often layed [sic] in bed at night thinking about you guys. Civilian life has its headaches too but of course you are on your own and have no one telling you what to do, but it is tough getting started again. You probably won’t believe this but when you are on your own you find yourself thinking about work and how you are going to live, in a more serious nature than you think. I didn’t realize what a hole it had put into my savings account until I got down to figure out what I had left and how much it costs to live and how impossible it is to get a place to live.
57The letter displays some ambivalence, about both the experience of being in the Navy and the experience of getting out and getting back into civilian life. And the world of music, which had offered some nostalgic solace and provided such motivation during the war, no longer held out the same possibilities:
I was amazed at the rather cold reception I got from musicians that I thought were pretty good friends of mine. For example I went back to a Tavern where I once had the band for 3 years before I went to the station. One of the fellows in the band used to write me while I was in the Navy and telling me how much he wished I was back playing with the band. When I got out and asked the fellows if I could come back to work as a sideman they fluffed me off and I later found out that one of the men thought me a rat for asking for the job and would be putting their drummer out of work. It seems all the musicians are worried about their jobs now as men are being released from the service all the time. It was getting so I felt guilty in seeing the fellows in the places they were playing as I felt that they thought I was trying to angle in.
58Artistic concerns, financial concerns, and the always-wistful concern of trying to fit back into a society that had continued on in their absence… The war was not easy on these musicians, but neither, it seems, was life afterwards.
59Russo comes back to the fellows from Farragut toward the end of his letter. “I’m certainly sorry to hear that the fellows are being shipped out to sea as that means being away from their wives lord only knows for how long. I guess I got out just in time. I’ll be glad of the day when I know you fellows get out. Again I will say it makes a different person out of you.” Whether he means the Navy, or the return to civilian life, is unclear.
Figure 4: Letter excerpt from Milton A. Russo
“Again I will say it makes a different person out of you”
60I began this project convinced that the Navy musicians — as I understood them from these few letters to my grandfather — engaged in their military service during World War II with a constant, underlying act of protest to their involvement. That is, they signed up for the service willingly enough, but did so as musicians in order to subvert the military system, by holding their artistic priorities above their duties as “fighting sailors” (Jones, 88) in the United States Navy. What I learned, in researching the role of Navy musicians at this time, and in interviewing one veteran and the son of one of my grandfather’s correspondents, was a truth much more complex and multi-layered. These recruits joined the Navy with music at the forefront of their minds and lives, and it remained their top priority, but their training taught them the necessity of balancing the work of art with the art of war. Only after the war was over — as in the case of Jack Zimmanck, Sr. — did they have the leisure to contemplate the world their work took them into, whether the different world of a foreign country now secured from enemy occupation, or the “different world” of their home country when they returned from active duty. Even the music was not a constant as it had been before the war. I began reading their letters with a certain prejudice against the Navy, saddened that the Armed Forces would send artists into combat zones, as if art should be protected from the forces of war, or as if its function in wartime could be so un-nuanced that it would be limited to forms of protest or of propaganda, overt or sublimated. Neither “art” nor “protest,” however, fell neatly within the lines of categorization my initial assumptions had drawn. The young men who joined the Navy as musicians did so not for a single purpose of collusion but for any number of reasons — fear of the draft, desire for a steady pay-check, curiosity, the craving for adventure, patriotic duty. They trained together, ate together, rowed together, swam together, studied together, marched together, saluted the flag and their senior officers together, obeyed bugle calls together, made music together. Their lives wove together in complex patterns, harmony and counterpoint, then separated, as the last notes of a symphony rise fading into the dust-sparkled air of a darkened concert hall.
- 41 Several people read drafts of this article and offered insights: Nicola Camerlenghi, Neila Donovan, (...)
61Pete was not a career Navy musician. After the war, he brought his family back to Southern California, where he took night classes to get his teaching credential in music education. He got a job as the band and orchestra teacher at Bancroft Junior High School in Long Beach, CA, and joined the local musicians’ union, of which he eventually became the president. Throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, he played gigs all over Long Beach and Los Angeles — from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus to recording jobs for local radio shows. In 1983 he was hired in Hollywood to play the orchestra conductor in Mel Brooks’ remake of the Ernst Lubitsch film To Be or Not To Be, originally released in 1942. The film tells the story of a performance troupe in Warsaw struggling to hold on to its identity against the encroaching Nazi forces — and acts as a tongue-in-cheek champion of the importance of freedom of artistic expression against the backdrop of oppression. I wonder, now, if the scenes Pete filmed — the orchestra playing valiantly on while artists gathered nervously onstage, worrying which show would prove to be their last chance to perform before their art was taken violently from them — brought back any of his own World War II memories … or if the fictional setting was strong enough, and his memories distant enough, that his own experiences faded into the background of just another temporary gig.41