Chernucha, Harry G: Major Instrument, Clarinet. Minor, Sax
Home: North Merrick, Long Island, N.Y. Graduate of Mephan High School (Wrestling champion of New York State high schools)
Nickname: "Cherry" & "The Mad Russian"
The Men of the U.S.S. Arizona Band
Bandmaster, Frederick W. Kinney, 1st MUS.
USS Arizona's Last Band was born at the United States Navy School of Music in Washington, DC in January 1941. It died in its entirety on 7 December 1941, a victim of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Six months later all 21 of those young musicians were dead.
In Hawaii, under the competent direction of bandmaster Fred Kinney, the Arizona Band soon became very popular and was known as "the best US Navy band in the whole Pacific Fleet."
Seven battleship bands, including Arizona's, were lined up on the fantail ready to play for colors.
Immediately after the Japanese bombs began falling, all the musicians, including Arizona's, ran down below to their battle stations in their ships' ammunition holds, as they had been trained to do.
Just as Arizona's musicians reached their battle stations, the Japanese bomb struck their ship.
And in that instant Arizona died, along with most of her crew, including her entire US Navy Band.
During the five short months, the band served aboard Arizona, her musicians practiced long and hard to improve both their musical skills and their Navy training.
The “senior wills” section of Harry Gregory Chernucha’s high school yearbook said he “leaves his intense patriotism to all those who are too passive in their appreciation of America.”
Though Mr. Chernucha was born in Connecticut, his parents were immigrants who got out of eastern Europe in 1913 -- just ahead of World War I. They taught their only child to appreciate the United States. The father, Harasim, was from Russia and the mother, Anna, from what was then known as Galicia, a province in the Austrian Empire.
Harry, born in 1922, grew up in Nassau County, New York, where his father was a gardener and his mother a housekeeper for another family.
The son was a well known student at Mepham High in Bellmore, New York. He had a lead role in a play, “Little Miss Fortune,” competed in wrestling and track, and wrote a gossip column for the school’s underground newspaper, “Trade Secrets.”
The yearbook for 1940 -- the year he graduated -- described him as hilarious, athletic and verbose.
Most of all, though, he was known for his music. He played saxophone in the band and sometimes conducted the group. He also performed on sax and clarinet with the Jolly Rogers, the orchestra that played at school dances. Outside of school, he and a small group of friends played for dances at fire halls and clubs. Classmates called him “Cherry” or “The Mad Russian.”
Mr. Chernucha wanted to pursue a career in music, so he sought admission to the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. He enlisted in October, 1940 and was assigned Service Number 2239108. The entrance requirements were rigorous and included written and physical tests as well as an audition. He was accepted and became a member of Band Number 22. He arrived onboard the U.S.S. Arizona June 17, 1941.
He was a musician and petty officer second class when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. All 21 band members were killed when they hurried to their battle station in the ammunition hold, which exploded when the battleship was bombed.
His body was not recovered, but a Requiem Mass was held for him in January 1942 at Church of the Curé of Ars in Merrick, New York. Five-hundred people attended, including the uniformed senior band and 25 wrestlers.
Harry Gregory Chernucha is memorialized at Tablets of the Missing at Honolulu Memorial, Honolulu, Hawaii. This is an American Battle Monuments Commission location.
Chernucha Avenue in Merrick, NY was named in his honor in 1951.