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Looking back: WWII & Korean Veteran shares story

Almost 75 years ago one local veteran made the decision to join the armed forces and to begin a lifelong career of service. Richard Hempel, currently of Lennox, joined the US Navy back in December 11 of 1943 and had the opportunity to see the world.

(Photo by Michael Bauman)

Hempel joined when he was 17 years old. In fact, he joined after he had been 17 for only four days. His father still had to sign for him, however, and made sure that his son knew exactly what he was getting himself into.

Hempel stated, “My dad said, ‘You know what you’re doing?’, and I said, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ Then he said, ‘Well, I don’t think you know what you’re doing, but I’m going to sign for you anyways and teach you a lesson.’ So, he did.”

Hempel was then on his way to a long and interesting career.

To start out Hempel was sent to boot camp at the Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho for 13 weeks after enlisting. After completing his training and enduring a 3 - 4 week isolation due to a case of the mumps, Hempel was then sent across the country to the West Coast Sonar School in San Diego, California.

He was then sent out further west to Honolulu on a baby flat top ship, a small aircraft carrier, the USS Windom Bay. The ride itself was an adventure with the ship going through some rough waters.

Plus, Hempel said, “I had never been to sea before or anything.”

Hempel then lived on a naval base in Hawaii and was later flown out of Hawaii to the Marshall and Gilbert Islands to work with the LCT (Landing Craft) 251. He spent 13 months of his time in the South Pacific before returning back to San Francisco to the Naval Station Treasure Island.

While in the Pacific Theater during WWII, Hempel participated in noteworthy events such as the Battle of Tarawa, which took place at the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands and was the first American offensive in the Pacific.

Upon his return, Hempel was assigned to the USS James E. Kyes 787 for advance and detail at Treasure Island. He helped commission the USS James E. Kyes at Bremerton. Hempel was later given a honorable discharge at the US Naval Air Station at Alameda, California on October 28, 1949.

But this was not the end of Hempel’s military career, however, Hempel got right back in the saddle. He joined the Army National Guard in Webster in November, 1947 and served until May 5, of 1950, when he was discharged and then reenlisted in the Navy on the same day.

As for why he enlisted, he stated, “I don’t know what we were looking for, I guess excitement.”

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