USS Pennsylvania – The Day the Music Died

By: Andrew McKinley

On Saturday night, December 6, 1941, a rousing musical competition, the Battle of Music, entertained many U.S. sailors and their guests in the Bloch Arena at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station. Twenty-one-member bands were competing in the semi-finals to see who would face off against the bands of the USS Arizona and the Marine Corps Barracks. The USS Pennsylvania’s band delighted the crowd with the lively “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” the melodic “Georgia on My Mind,” and a rousing jitterbug contest with a version of “Jingle Bells.”

The band of the Pennsylvania, along with that of the USS Tennessee, won the night and the opportunity to face off with the Arizona and Marine Corps Barracks bands on December 20. But as the men strolled back to their bunks after the festivities were over, the bandmembers, including Henry Lachenmayer and Curtis Mandoske, could not have imagined that by morning their victory would be seem a distant memory and the final musical showdown would never happen.

The Bombs Started Falling

The morning of December 7, 1941, seemed a typical example of a beautiful Hawaiian day. The men aboard were going about their business, completely unaware of the dreadful event headed their way. Robert Cook, Sr. was sitting in his bunk reading. Sam Wolfe slept soundly in the forward gun turret. Arnold Seigfried was shining a porthole. Robert Jones and his friends had prepared a lunch to take ashore for a hike. The chaplain prepared for the Sunday morning service.

Then the bombs began to hit. Just before 8:00 a.m., the Japanese planes seemed to come out of nowhere. The Pennsylvania, dry-docked alongside the destroyers Cassin and Downes, is often reported as one of the first (if not the very first) ships to return fire at the enemy planes. Roscoe Taylor, who was raising the Colors on deck, reportedly said that once the attack began, he “drew his side arm and shot at [them].”

Bombed the Dry Docks

Within minutes of the start of the air raid, the Pennsylvania was strafed by machine gun fire from three Japanese aircraft. Dive bombers came back around in an attempt to destroy the dry dock’s caisson. Had they succeeded, water surging into the dry dock would have done severe damage to the Pennsylvania and the nearby destroyers  Battle of the Bands Music TrophyThe ships returned fire, causing the enemy planes to deviate from their course and aim for the nearby USS Nevada. Other planes came along shortly thereafter which also missed both the Pennsylvania and the caisson. One of the attacks from above did manage to land a bomb on the Pennsylvania. Breaking through the boat deck, the bomb detonated in Casement 9, killing some of the crew.

As the attacks became more intermittent, the Pennsylvania did take down at least one more plane. Official reports indicate that she brought down two Japanese planes, though unofficial reports claim up to six planes were taken out. The dry dock was flooded in order to help save the destroyers, Cassin and Downes, both of which had sizable fires on deck.

Although it was one of the few ships to survive Pearl Harbor relatively unscathed, the Pennsylvania had sustained some damage. Tragically, the ship had lost some of her crew, yet its loss seemed incomparable to that of the USS Arizona, which had been destroyed in the attack.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the band members from the USS Pennsylvania, along with the other band participants, decided to honor the USS Arizona band with the “Battle of Music” trophy, giving it the new name of “Arizona Trophy.” A night of such excitement and fun led into a morning of true horror, which was then followed up with a fitting tribute to fallen comrades.

USS Pennsylvania Survivor

4 thoughts on “USS Pennsylvania – The Day the Music Died

  1. Cynthia Millen says:

    So glad to have found this.
    My uncle was on the Tennessee, and later told of the Music competition in which he participated. He said that many of the guys stayed up very late and were going to “hang out” at the Arizona. He went back to the Tennessee early because he was going to serve 8am Mass on shore the next morning. So he was ashore when the bombs hit.
    God rest the souls of all of those boys.

    1. says:

      Aloha Cynthia,
      Thanks for sharing your uncle’s story! It sounds like he was a very fortunate man.

  2. Margaret (Pumphrey) Nelson says:

    I attended that wonderful event as a 12 year old with an older girl friend. Had spent the night at her house since my folks were away for the weekend on the other side of the island. Dad ran the radio school at Pearl, and we lived in the housing outside the gate. Went to school at Hickam Field with other “military brats”. Woke up to Zeros flying and strafing over the parking lots. My folks managed to get back to Pearl so dad could report for duty…didn’t hear from him for 5 days…no cell phones then. Mom helped attend to the wounded who were brought to Bloch Arena and laid out on the tiers of benches.Dad’s school was bombed out and had to be moved to the mountains. Terrible memories, never to be forgotten.

  3. Sandra Regan says:

    I live in Northern CA and I recently found a Log Album from the USS Pennsylvania from 1941. There are a lot of photos. No idea who the original owner was.

Comments are closed.

Recommended Articles