Today, 11 November, 2011 is Veterans Day, once known as Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of the Great War of 1914-18. So it seems appropriate to honor veterans with a couple of vintage photo postcards of military musicians. This photo of a U.S. Navy band from the battleship USS Florida (BB-30) dates from the relatively peaceful period between WWI and WWII. Standing in front of one of the great 12-inch guns, the 16 bandsmen, to judge by the bright white uniforms, are in very warm sunshine.
Droping you a few lines to let you know that I am well and happy, hoping you're the same. I was thinking of droping you a letter sometime ago, but it's so hot down here in Guantanabo (sic) Bay that a feller looses all his Ambition, will get leave soon. Chas.P.S. Remember me to all.
But what makes this band photo a unique historical image is the complexion of the navy bandsman standing on the left holding a clarinet. Despite some efforts to end discrimination and improve civil rights, America remained a very segregated society after the First World War, and the Navy during this period had very few black servicemen. This came from a policy of exclusion of black personnel based on a reasoning that segregation on board a ship was impractical. According to one history of the Integration of the Armed Forces, by 1940 the Navy had only 4,007 black personnel, or 2.3 percent of its nearly 170,000-man total, and almost all were employed as stewards. So it is exceptional to see this dark skinned clarinetist as a member of the band.
The first postcard came with a companion card showing another navy band, this time from the battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33). This larger band of 22 bandsmen, who seem to be out in bright sunlight again, has three men of color in the center: one clarinet, one euphonium, and one whose instrument is hidden. It is very difficult to judge ethnicity in sepia photographs, and it's possible that some of the bandsmen are of Asian origin, perhaps of Filipino heritage. But the euphonium player looks distinctly dark and of very African descent. Again this is a very unusual mixture for a navy band of this period.
In 1948 President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the military, though the end of discrimination and segregation of all units throughout the US Armed Forces still took many more years. Of course today's navy bands do not discriminate on race or for that matter, on gender either. For a photo of a black bandsman from before WWI look at my post on US Navy bandsmen 1914.
The USS Arkansas was a 26,000 ton Wyoming class battleship and like the Florida was commisioned before WWI in 1912. She was part of the Atlantic fleet and after the war was a training ship for navy midshipmen. After being refitted she saw service in WWII, participating in the Normandy invasion and later after joining the Pacific fleet, helping in the assaults on Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. This postcard is from the 1920's era.
Few lines to let let you know that I've read your letter and to cut this story short will say good night and write later.
Your son, ChasJust a bit longer than the emails I get from my own son.
The handwriting of the name - Svihovec - created a real puzzle, as the letters did not immediately make sense. But eventually I found the service record for Charles F. Svihovec (1903-1976) who served in the Navy from 1921 to 1925. Charles was the second son of Edward Svihovec who immigrated from Bohemia with his family in 1911. Charles returned to Connecticut after his tour and married not Mary but Helen, making a career in the State Highway Department.
I have no way to determine if Charles was a musician in these bands, as his service record did not include his rating. The cards may have been just souvenir cards available through the ship's post office. But in the 1920 census for Deep River, CN, Charles is living with his parents and two siblings. His father Edward Svihovec's occupation was listed as polisher, Piano Factory, and Charles and his older brother Edward also worked for the Piano Factory.
This was likely the Pratt-Read Player Action Co. which had a factory making piano keyboard actions and player pianos in Deep River. The adjacent town of Ivoryton, Conn. also had a long industrial history making combs, buttons, toothpicks, billiard balls, and other items out of ivory, including piano keyboards. Here is the Wikepedia image showing the Ivoryton keyboard factory.
My guess is that in 1911, any Bohemian immigrant with machine skills would likely have had musical skills too. And if Edward played a brass instrument in the factory band, certainly his son, Charles would learn a musical instrument too. And what 18 year old wouldn't pass up an opportunity to see the world and play music on the deck of two battleships. If only he had thought to make an X over his sailor cap in the photos.
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
which is a weekly meme which encourages bloggers to publish and share old images and photographs. This weekend it is celebrates its 100th post anniversary.