Tag Archives: FDR

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