Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth!

We are specially honored today, the Fourth of July, to have permission to read the text of a speech delivered by John Kuehn, CDR USN (ret), Ph.D, on the occasion of a Memorial Day event in Acheson, KS in 2012.  To the best of my knowledge, this speech has not been printed previously and has been heard only by those in attendance that day.

Dr. Kuehn is a retired naval aviator, holds a Ph.D in military history, and is currently a Professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS.  He has authored numerous books and articles including Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet that Defeated the Japanese Navy.

His speech, delivered for Memorial Day, is eminently appropriate for the Fourth of July, as well.  It offers a unique perspective on military service and is an inspiration for all of us.  Here, then, is his speech.

Thank you,  Representative Jenkins, May Werring, Veterans, Citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is great to be here today as we honor those who have served their country in the armed forces of the United States.   I have to confess I get a little embarrassed when someone says to me “thank you for your service.”   Why, you may ask? 

First, although I did serve in two conflicts – wars - they were both short and I was one of those lucky guys way up high, pretty far out of harm’s way.  Next, obviously I did not give the full measure that so many others before me, and doubtless those to come - and possibly some right now as we speak - have given.  It has been called the last full measure, but it is a gift that keeps on taking - in the losses and broken lives of loved ones at home.  We must always remember that Memorial Day is a day to honor those who gave their lives in the service of their country - those who died while in the service, many in battle.

Finally, it always seemed strange that someone would thank me for doing something that gave my life so much meaning.  Think of it.  I, and many like me, were given the opportunity - no the privilege - of serving our country.  Military service was not some gift that I gave my nation out of the goodness of my heart.  It was a gift the citizens of the United States gave me, a sacred trust, to serve something greater than myself for a far greater purpose than I had ever been given the chance to serve.  So please do not thank me for my service. Instead I thank you for the privilege of serving this great nation.

Which brings me to that day almost 69 years ago.  It was a Sunday, just like yesterday.  Another beautiful Sunday and young men, not unlike those in this audience were waking up early that day in a veritable Garden of Eden known as Pearl Harbor.  It was a beautiful morning, the clear photographs that exist in their hundreds attest to the mild clear day.  The young men I want to talk about today were the musicians of the USS Arizona, one the powerful dreadnought battleships that the United States had built during World War I.  There were twenty-one of them and on Sunday their regular gig included a sunrise rendition of the National Anthem as the colors were raised in the morning.  After that some of them might have duty while others might get some shore leave.  Others would attend service aboard the ship itself, perhaps in the foc’sle.  All of them were excited about the future.

You see, the Arizona band was known as “the best band in the pacific fleet.”  They had earlier placed first in a semi-final “battle of the bands” contest and were all preparing for final round of competition on December 19th, 1941.   They were from all over the United States - Ohio, Illinois, New York, California, etc.  One of them, Musician Second Class Curt Hass, one of the senior members, was a graduate of North Kansas City High School.  They were all formed up ahead of time in their crisp white “cracker jack” uniforms to play the National Anthem at precisely 0800, along with all the other battleship bands as the colors were raised.  Suddenly, at 7:50 AM the Japanese air attack began.

Legend has it, wrongly, that they played the anthem as the ship went down.  The truth is even more inspirational.  When general quarters was called away the band went to “battle stations.”  For these men that meant reporting to the magazine to help pass out ammunition for the guns.  This turned out to be the most dangerous place on the ship.  Shortly after they arrived for duty a bomb penetrated the deck next to turret #2 and then ignited the black powder magazine leading to a catastrophic series of secondary explosions.  The band was killed to the last man, literally vaporized in the explosion.  Nearly half of all the fatalities at Pearl Harbor, 1400, came from this single cataclysmic explosion.

After the attack was over the other bands in the fleet got together and unanimously agreed to award the trophy for the best Pacific Fleet band posthumously to the Arizona band.  I encourage you to go to the web, the picture of them is easy to find, and look at their faces.  They gave the last full measure. 

As we honor them, and those who both preceded and came after them, I would like you to think, the next time you hear a 21-gun salute, of those brave musicians of the USS Arizona band.

Thank you for this honor and God bless you all.


  1. The sentiments of a Patriot. Well said!

  2. I'm a musician so this one hit home rather hard. What a tremendous way to give for your country.

  3. Great story and great thoughts. Thanks for sharing it with us!


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