Thursday, December 18, 2014

Merry Christmas to the Fleet

The professionalism of our active-duty bands is on full display in this video of Navy Band Northeast's 2014 Holiday Concert at the Naval War College, Naval Station Newport, LCDR Carl Gerhard conducting.


Incidentally, this was Carl's last performance before his upcoming retirement. Congratulations to our NMA shipmate, who, we hope, will now be able to attend our reunions without having to leave on Friday mornings to get back to Newport for military gigs!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Pearl Harbor Cornet

Petty Officer Second Class William Harten, Jr. wasn't a gunner, pilot or landing party leader. He was a musician. While in training at the Navy's School of Music in Washington, DC, he'd played his cornet at President Roosevelt's inauguration. Now, in December of 1941, Bill was attached to the band aboard the USS West Virginia, serving as cornetist, assistant bandleader and communications specialist.

The Pearl Harbor Veteran's Cornet
And on December 7, he became something more.

As the bombs fell and the West Virginia went down, Bill jumped overboard. Swimming towards Ford Island, he spotted a panicked, drowning sailor amid the debris. Although exhausted and choking on the fumes of the fires of hell that surrounded him, he changed his course and pulled the sailor to safety.

People like this are called heroes and are rightly honored with medals and decorations. But a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, MU2 Harten received a singular, unprecedented  award. At his request, a Navy diver who was making an underwater survey of the West Virginia found his way to Bill's storage compartment and rescued his cornet.

Bombs, fire and water had taken most of the valves, tubing and fittings from the horn. It was now useless as a musical instrument but, in a certain sense, valuable beyond measure.

Throughout Bill's long life he served as a bugler at civic events and veterans' funerals. Of course, on these occasions he used a working instrument. But his old cornet saw duty, too, serving for decades as a vivid reminder to all who saw it--on television, in newspapers and at patriotic observances--of the realities of war and the nobility of service.

And, as Bill always admitted, a  reminder of a special grace that kept him alive on that day of infamy.

Photo courtesy of Valerie H. Briggs, © 2001. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Read a more complete story of Bill Harten's experiences at