Seaman 1st Class
Kenneth Eugene Graff

USS Oklahoma
USS Helena
20 September 1940 - 7 December 1941
24 December 1941 - 6 July 1943

 

Dedicated to the memory of my father
9 April 1920 - 6 July 1943

created July 2013
Doug Graff-Comella

Taken at Thomas Studios,
Belleville, Kansas
Taken in Australia, March 1943

click on thumbnail to see larger image
used with permission of
Sherrie
Republic County Historical Society

Belleville, Kansas

 


My dad's Purple Heart Medal was released from the Republic County Historical Society Museum in March 2017 and sent to me. Amy, Pat, and Nancy were responsible for this and my heartfelt thanks go out to each of them

 

Documents and a Story

Use your browser's BACK button to return to the previous page whenever viewing a PDF file

 

 




Birth Certificate


Certificate of Death

 

All of my dad's immediate family had died by the time that I learned in early 2013 that he is my biological father. Everything that follows has been pieced together from information obtained from the following sources:

National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri (NPRC)

National Archives and Records Administration, San Bruno, California

USS Helena records at Fold3.com

Ancestry.com

Butler Memorial Library and Cambridge Museum, Cambridge, Nebraska

The Republic County Historical Society, Belleville, Kansas

Staff at Leavenworth National Cemetery, Leavenworth, Kansas

USS Helena Organiztion

My dad was born on 9 April 1920 in Farnum, Nebraska, and his parents were Harry August Graff and Floy Baker. They had a daughter, my Aunt Elaine, who was born in 1914, and an infant son, Gerald, who lived for one month and died in May 1917.

By 1927 the family was living in Orafino, Nebraska (Frontier County) , and both he and his sister attended Orafino Country School. Aunt Elaine apparently stayed at this school until her graduation from 12th grade.

The families in that area of Nebraska were farmers and came from a history of farming families. From one of my dad's high school classmates I learned that the Depression made things extremely difficult for anyone living in that area. This combined with the Dust Bowl made for bad times, but those who got through this period seemed to be better people because of their experience.

Sometime during the 1930s the family moved a bit south closer to Cambridge (Furnas County) and for at least one year my dad was with the CCC at Custer, South Dakota. This most likely accounts for why he graduated from Cambridge High School in 1939 at the age of 19.

One year later, in June 1940, he enlisted in the US Navy at the recruiting station in Hastings, Nebraska.From his file from the NPRC I learned that my dad was 5'6" tall and weighed 127 lbs.

His first assignment was training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Upon completion of boot camp he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma which was based at Bremerton, Washington.

By December 1941, the USS Oklahoma was in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor and was there when the Japs attacked on 7 December 1941. My dad escaped without apparent injury as he was assigned to the USS Helena on 24 December 1941.

The USS Helena had been damaged during the attack, but temporary repairs allowed the ship to set sail for the West Coast and Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The ship was there from early January until mid-July 1942 and this would have been the time when he met my mom. They were never married.

The USS Helena departed San Francisco Bay 21 July 1942 and escorted a convoy of 8 ships to the South Pacific. From mid-August 1942 until July 1943 she participated in several Naval Engagements as well as serving as escort to the USS Enterprise and USS Long Island.

I have not been able to determine what my dad's primary responsibility on the USS Helena was. Three torpedoes hit the ship during the Battle of Kula Gulf on the night of 5-6 July 1943. My dad was one of 168 crew members who did not survive the attack.

It is impossible to know if he was killed immediately when the ship was hit or if he survived only to drown in Kula Gulf.

The book Sunk in Kula Gulf by John Domagalski details what the survivors went through while they were in the water. Some men simply gave up and drifted away while others were injured so badly that they were not able to survive.

The location of the USS Helena at the bottom of Kula Gulf is considered to be a military gravesite, with all the respect that is accorded to those buried on land.

There is a Memorial Wall at the American Military Cemetery in Manila, Phillipine Islands, that lists most of the men who did not survive. The presumed date of death for these men is 10 August 1945. (Section 5, Public Law 490, 7 Mar 42).

My dad's name is on that list.

In early May, 2013, the staff at Leavenworth National Cemetery , Leavenworth, Kansas, granted my request to have a Memorial Marker placed there to honor my dad on US Soil.

He is one of 19 men who have memorial markers in various cemeteries across the United States. The remains of S1c General Preston Douglas were discovered in 2006 and he is buried in Tennesee.

My mom's collection of family pictures does not have any of my dad. I will never know if she sent him any pictures of me when I was a baby, but I would like to think that she did.

 

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While my dad was on the USS Helena in the area of Guadalcanal, my mom's brother, Pvt. Vincent P. Medaglia, was with the Americal Division fighting the Japs on the island.


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His medals

Purple Heart
American Defense Service Medal
WWII Victory Medal

These can be viewed at the bottom of
my dad's page at the
USS Helena Organization web site

My thanks to Dave for putting this page together

 


Frontier County Map 1895

Furnas County Map 1895

Orafino Country School 1927

Photo found at the Frontier County section of the
NEGenWeb site

 


1939 CAMBRASKAN ( Cambridge High School Yearbook)

Newspaper articles

    Omaha Nebraska Naval Recruits

    Lawrence Journal 1943

  Cambridge Clarion 30 May 2013

used with permission of Cambridge Clarion

 

   Two pages from Enlistment File   (NPRC)

This is how I learned that my dad attended
Cambridge High School


Page from Kansas Deaths in WWII
National Archives

This was my first clue that this is the correct
Kenneth Graff
His mother visited the home where I was living
with my maternal grandparents during WWII.
They told me to call her Grandma Childs.

Presidential Memorial Certificate
Issued July 2013



Leavenworth National
Cemetery