American Legion Post #144 of Corcoran has announced its scholarship program. Each year, the post will present a scholarship to a deserving Corcoran High School student and each year the post will honor a different local veteran when making the award.
This year, the post is highlighting the late William (Bill) M. Kemble. Here’s his story:
On Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack that resulted in pulling the United States into World War II, Bill was 16 years old and employed part time as a paper carrier for the Fresno Bee. He had completed delivering the papers early that fateful Sunday morning when the phone rang. It was his district manager telling him that the United States had been attacked. The newspaper was then printing a special edition and Bill was needed to sell those papers.
There was no internet, no computers, no television—only newspapers and radio—and the radios weren’t even in most cars.. Bill was assigned to sell the special edition newspapers at the intersection of Palm and Olive avenues in Fresno, at a nickel each, which kept him busy from mid-day until late in the afternoon and in most cases giving the buyers their first information on the attack.
Bill Kemble enlisted in the Navy following his high school graduation, eight days before his 18th birthday in 1943. Soon after boot camp, he was assigned to the Navy Fleet Oiler USS Ashtabula, watching the New Year’s Eve lights of the Long Beach roller coaster go down over the horizon as he headed to sea in his first hours onboard ship. Initially he was a loader on a three-inch deck gun, but soon started taking courses to become a radio technician. On his ship, he earned stars for participation in five battles: Marshalls, Marianas, Philippines, Okinawa and the bombardment of Japan. He was honorably discharged after the war as a radarman first class.
Near the end of WWII, the Ashtabula radio call “Stewpot” took part in the greatest of all sea battles, the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Its duties were to supply fuel oil, lubricants and high octane aviation gasoline to the fighting fleet while underway at sea. During this battle, there were about 50 or more various types of ships in formation operating off the coast of Japan, traveling with spacing between the ships of about 1,000 yards. This oiler was rigged to receive combat vessels and accomplished refueling by passing high pressure hoses over to the ships; several six-inch hoses to the major ships, small hoses to the destroyers and destroyer escorts, and supply them the fuel they needed while cruising at about four to eight knots.
Although the Japanese Navy had instructions to seek out and destroy all supply units, the only damage done to any Seventh Fleet service force ship during the entire operation was by a torpedo bomber on the Ashtabula. The explosion opened a hole 24×34 feet on her port side and flooded a pump room. After transferring fuel to tanks on the undamaged side and within 25 minutes, she rejoined her task unit, but sustained two more air attacks shortly after dawn. The next day, she was able to fuel over 200,000 more gallons of av gas to combat ships before she returned to base for repairs.
During the battle, Bill was at his radio GQ as part of the team announcing enemy airplane contacts, advising the crew of necessary information and hearing battle commands all night from other ships in the fleet. Amazing, there was no one physically injured on the Ashtabula during the battle. It was also noteworthy that it was the only fleet oiler to be hit and survive during the entire course of WWII.