Enter Lila Jean

After the war ended, Les Keiter went right back to Centralia-Chehalis to his old job at KELA.  Les’ job was the same, but Les has changed, and he found himself wanting more…

This is where the matchmaker kicks in.  Les’ mother, Dolly Keiter, re-introduced Les to the kid sister to one of his fraternity brothers.  

Her name was Lila Hammerslough.  Lila was 7 years his junior. I say “re-introduced,” because when Les first met Lila, that seven-year difference was the difference between a young adult and a child.  Five years and a World War later, that wasn’t true anymore – Lila had grown up!

As Les would say, it wasn’t love at first sight, but one date led to another, and he described the turning point as follows:

One day, Les took Lila on a date to a Seattle Rainiers baseball game.  While watching the game, Les began explaining how to keep score.  She put up with him for about 3 innings, then she took the program from him and scored the game herself – even better than he did!  Unbeknownst to him, Lila Jean Hammerslough had been the sports editor of her school newspaper.  She had been named “Outstanding Baseball Fan” by a local paper, and she regularly listened to baseball games on the radio, announced by Leo Lassen (Les’ hero).  Lila was also a heck of a softball player!  Perhaps Dolly Keiter had known all of this when she made the re-introduction, but Les Keiter was completely surprised – and smitten.

From Lila’s perspective, they had been dating for some time and close to falling in love, so she didn’t want to make a scene about the scoring business.  She said, “I didn’t know if I should play dumb or show him my smarts.”  Les, it turned out, loved her smarts.

Les and Lila were married Sept. 9th, 1948 in Seattle, WA, and their honeymoon was an adventure!  Lila had never been east of Olympia, Washington.  So, they flew to Chicago (and saw the Cubs), to Cleveland (saw the Indians) to Niagara Falls, and to New York City, where they saw every team, Broadway Show, and Big Band they could.  Then, they took in the sights in Washington D.C. before the happy couple ended their honeymoon in Los Angeles.  From there, they drove up the coast and then inland to their first home: an upstairs apartment in Modesto, California.

Les Keiter – The War Years

Seattle 1942
Les Keiter upon enlisting in the Navy (with brother, aunts, and cousin)

Les Keiter enlisted in the Navy in early 1942 (his 3rd job).  

He completed basic training, became Yeoman 3rd Class, U.S. Naval Reserve, and was shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii.  Les’s brother, “Buddy,” enlisted  in the Navy shortly afterwards and was assigned to the SEABEES, 11th Special Battalion in the European theatre. 

Les was itching to be sent into combat, but he was assigned to clerical work for a commander’s office in the middle of the Navy Yard right there in Honolulu.  That lasted about 2 months until the skipper called him in to question him about why he wasn’t an officer when he had a college degree.  Les explained that he had poor color perception, which the Navy considered to be a physical defect and asked if anything could be done.  The skipper resolved to see if he could help move Keiter forward.

Les Keiter in Honolulu, 1942

6 weeks later, Keiter was promoted to Ensign and given 48 hours to prepare to ship out.   First, he was sent to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for 6 weeks in officer training.  Next, he was shipped to Fort Schuyler, Long Island, New York for 6 more weeks of training. Then, he was assigned to Port Hueneme in Southern California to train with the ACORNS, which was an airfield operation unit assigned to work behind the Marines and SEABEEs on a recaptured island.   

By August, 1942, Les was finally sent out of US territory  with ACORN 15 – towards the Russel Islands, just north of Guadalcanal.  The ACORNS arrived in New Caledonia, then went on to Noumea, headquarters for the Pacific Command under Admiral “Bull” Halsey. It was there, upon seeing a place in which several Marines and SEABEEs  had been killed by an explosion a week earlier, the war, for Les, suddenly felt real. 

Upon arriving on the Russell Islands, the Harbormaster directed ACORN 15 to work with the SEABEEs 11th Special Battalion. 

Les’s friend, Billy Lee, said, “Isn’t that the outfit your brother is with?”

“Nonsense.  Buddy was sent to Europe.  Must be a different part of the Battalion.”

But Billy was not deterred and asked the harbor master about it.  In a thrilling coincidence, after heading to Europe, the Navy had sent Buddy right to where Les was stationed!  The reunion was so joyous, it even made the papers back home in Seattle.

Shortly after working together, Buddy shipped stateside and Les was reassigned to a communications outfit, bouncing from one Pacific Island to another for over a year, before landing on Peleliu, Palau, where Les was finally given a job he was most suited for: running the Palau Armed Forces Radio Station.

He was the station manager, and the station had a full staff right in the middle of the war!  They played records, did the news, and, of course, Les did sports.  He announced boxing matches, and he even had his own show covering baseball, including an exhibition visit and game with the navy All-Stars, which included big leaguers Pee Wee Reese and Scooter Rizzuto!

Not long after his stint on Palau, Les, too was sent back stateside for reassignment. Les stepped off a seaplane on San Francisco’s Treasure Island on an unforgettable date – April 12, 1945, the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. 

Five months later, the war finally ended, Les and Buddy both survived, and it was time for everyone to try to put their civilian lives back together.

Bud, Dolly, Jake, and Les Keiter – Seattle, 1945

1941, The Year Everything Changed

Les Keiter, just before graduation, in his ZBT Fraternity house

First job:   Following his graduation from University of Washington, Les Keiter got a job as a summer relief announcer on KGA Radio in Spokane, Washington.   On July 1st, 1941, Les was officially on the air!  His  first duties ever as a broadcaster were reading program notes between shows, reading news breaks, station identifications, etc.  After he had been on the job for 3 or 4 days, the program director brought Les into his office and said, ”You’ll never make it in this business.  If I were you, I’d learn to drive a truck or something.”  Les had a 2-month iron-clad contract for July and August of 1941, so he felt safe for 7 more weeks, at least.

Second job:  Les got a call from J. Elroy McCaw, who would employ Les many times throughout his career.  He owned KELA radio in the twin cities of Centralia-Chehalis, WA and heard Les on the air.  He hired Les to start September 1st to break him in as Assistant Sports Director.  So, in his Model A Ford, Keiter drove with his parents to Centralia-Chehalis. The next morning, Les began his 2nd radio job, which included sweeping the place!  So, finally, in the fall of 1941, Les Keiter began to learn the real ropes of the business.

Les Keiter (left) on the job at KELA. Other photographees unknown





Then, of course his world and everyone’s dramatically changed forever.  2 months in to Keiter’s second job, December 7th, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. KELA was taken off the air the next day, as were most west coast stations, because of the anticipated invasion of the Pacific Coast by the Imperial Forces of Japan.