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Hempfield band to help Hawaii mark 50th year of statehood

| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 11:23 a.m.

Bethany Banaszewski is looking forward to her trip to Hawaii. The 17-year-old senior is a drum major with the Hempfield Area High School band, which is making the trip to mark the island chain's 50th anniversary as a state.

White beaches beckon the 150 band members. There will be snorkeling, and a climb up Diamond Head.

What really excites Banaszewski and the other young musicians is that they'll visit Pearl Harbor in the company of a veteran of the Japanese attack on the military base 68 years ago this December.

"It's going to be absolutely amazing," Banaszewski said. "It's an honor."

Henry Heim, of New Cumberland, Pa., was a 19-year-old corporal on the day the Japanese sneak attack plunged the United States into World War II.

He considers the trip with high school students an honor. He said he wants to answer all the questions the young people might have about that fateful day. "I'll make myself available," he said.

According to band director Brian Tychinski, the genesis of the trip to Hawaii was an invitation two years ago to play in a post-Thanksgiving holiday season parade. "We decided we couldn't get everything in place in time," Tychinski said. Since then, the band has played in the Rose Bowl Parade and turned down an opportunity to participate in the musical festivities at last year's Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

"The (Hawaiian) organizers told us about the 50th anniversary celebration in 2009," Tychinski said. "We jumped at it."

The band members will leave for Hawaii early Wednesday from Pittsburgh International Airport on five aircraft. They will spend four full days there.

Accompanying them will be parents and other relatives, some flying on their own, others with a specially booked tour. The party from Hempfield will include some 70 adults.

The cost for band members came to $350,000, said Ed Kolvacik, president of the band parents group. The bulk of the money was raised through hoagie sales.

"The kids did it all themselves," Kolvacik said. "They made the hoagies, they sold the hoagies."

They learned the music — 1940s-style swing. The band will perform on board the USS Missouri their first day in Hawaii. The battleship received the Japanese surrender in Tokyo harbor four years and nine months after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

The band will give a concert in downtown Honolulu and march in a statehood parade through the Waikiki neighborhood.

Preceding the band's visit to the Missouri will be a wreath-laying at the USS Arizona Memorial. Heim will participate in the ceremony. He has a personal connection with one of the 1,177 sailors entombed in the sunken battleship.

As he tells the story, Paul Shiley was a boyhood friend and sailor on the Arizona. The last Saturday in November 1941, Heim got together with his chum. Shiley showed him the compartment where he bunked on the Arizona.

"It was pretty much at sea level," Heim recalled. "I told him I didn't like it. He laughed and said 'You get used to it.'"

On the day of the attack, Heim said he was bunking on the second floor of barracks at Hickam Field, the airfield adjacent to Pearl Harbor. Japanese aircraft swooped in. Machine gun fire pounded the barracks. Heim made it to the tailgun of a crippled plane. He returned fire. He was wounded when a Japanese bomb tore through the roof of a building that housed Army ordnance.

A week after the Dec. 7 attack, he learned that Shiley was dead.

Heim finished the war in Europe as a pilot and said he flew 70 missions. At the end he was mentally exhausted. "I couldn't go on," he said.

One of three band drum majors, Nathan Hercula, a 17-year-old senior, said a highlight of the trip for him will be just to stand at Pearl Harbor. "I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Drum major Janelle Smalley, 18, said she doesn't know much about the Japanese attack, just what she's gleaned from the classroom and from her father, who is "into history." The senior said she wants to "experience" the place "firsthand."

Heim suggested his return to Pearl Harbor will be emotional. He plans to say good-bye to his many buddies who perished there. "Maybe I didn't know them all, but they're all my friends," he said.

And he hopes to have an impact on his young traveling companions.

"I asked what was expected of me," Heim said. "Ed (Kolvacik) said that to the students, I'm living history.

"I want them to ask me all the questions they want. I want to help them understand what it was like."

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