Boatswain's Mate First Class Reinhardt Keppler earned the Medal of Honor on the USS San Francisco (shown here where it was hit) during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Reinhardt J. Keppler never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on January 22, 1918 in Washington. His parents Gottlob and Marie were both born in Germany and came to America in 1913. His father worked as a preacher. Reinhardt had one older sister, two older brothers, and four younger brothers (at least two served in the army during the war).
Having completed four years of high school, he enlisted in the US Navy in February 1936. He reenlisted in April 1940 and was assigned as a Boatswain's Mate First Class on the cruiser USS San Francisco. He was on station at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese surprise attack on December 7, 1941. San Francisco survived unscathed.
While on leave in San Francisco, he married Elizabeth West in May 1942.
Boatswain's Mate Keppler was on the San Francisco on August 7, 1942 when it supported the 1st Marine Division's landing on Guadalcanal. San Francisco remained in the area to support the Guadalcanal campaign for the next three months. It survived a Japanese plane that crashed into the cruiser on November 12. During the evening of November 12-13, San Francisco participated in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where the Americans were outgunned by two Japanese battleships. San Francisco was hit 45 times, but managed to withdraw. Keppler was one of 77 men onboard who lost their lives in the battle.
Boatswain's Mate Keppler's Medal of Honor citation details his contribution to saving lives and the cruiser itself:
For extraordinary heroism and distinguished courage above and beyond the call of duty while serving aboard the U.S.S. San Francisco during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands, 12–November 13, 1942.
When a hostile torpedo plane, during a daylight air raid, crashed on the after machine-gun platform, KEPPLER promptly assisted in the removal of the dead and, by his capable supervision of the wounded, undoubtedly helped save the lives of several shipmates who otherwise might have perished.
That night, when the hangar was set afire during the great battle off Savo Island, he bravely led a hose into the starboard side of the stricken area and there, without assistance and despite frequent hits from terrific enemy bombardment, eventually brought the fire under control. Later, although mortally wounded, he labored valiantly in the midst of bursting shells, persistently directing fire-fighting operations and administrating to wounded personnel until he finally collapsed from loss of blood, aged 24.
His great personal valor, maintained with utter disregard of personal safety, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Reinhardt's gravestone listed his death as November 15, 1942, but it was probably November 13.
His grave is at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California. I don't know what happened to his widow.
After the war the destroyer USS Keppler was named in his honor.
Thank you Reinhardt for your sacrifice. Let's Earn It for Reinhardt.
Last year on this date I profiled Stanley Glowacki, a Coast Guard seaman who died supporting the Normandy D-Day landing. You can read about Stanley here.
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