(This page first posted on 12 August 2013
Updated on 24 January 2017)

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US Naval Academy Glee Club
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Seaman 1st Class Kenneth E. Graff
USS Helena CL-50
24 December 1941 - 6 July 1943

Dedicated to the memory of my father
9 April 1920 - 6 July 1943

July 2013
Doug Graff-Comella

The date this picture was taken is unknown, but most likely was
while my dad could have been on leave when the USS Helena
was at theMare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California,
from January-July 1942

On 28 February 1943 the USS Helena left Espiritu Santo for
Sydney, Australia. The ship was there until 26 March 1943
when it returned to Espiritu Santo.

This picture was taken in Sydney approximately
three months before my dad's death.

Republic County Historical Society
Belleville, Kansas

Many thanks to AWON for allowing us to post the following story.

All of my dad's immediate family had died by the time that I learned in early 2013
that he is my biological father.

Everything that follows has been pieced together from information obtained from
the following sources:

National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri (NPRC)

National Archives and Records Administration, San Bruno, California

USS Helena records at Fold3.com


Butler Memorial Library and Cambridge Museum, Cambridge, Nebraska

The Republic County Historical Society, Belleville, Kansas

Staff at Leavenworth National Cemetery, Leavenworth, Kansas

USS Helena Organiztion


My dad was born on 9 April 1920 in Farnum, Nebraska, and his parents were
Harry August Graff and Floy Baker. They had a daughter, my Aunt Elaine,
who was born in 1914, and an infant son, Gerald, who lived for one month
and died in May 1917.

By 1927 the family was living in Orafino, Nebraska (Frontier County) , and both he and
his sister attended Orafino Country School. Aunt Elaine apparently stayed at this school
until her graduation from 12th grade.

The families in that area of Nebraska were farmers and came from a history of farming
families. From one of my dad's high school classmates I learned that the Depression made
things extremely difficult for anyone living in that area. This combined with the Dust Bowl
made for bad times, but those who got through this period seemed to be better people
because of their experience.

Sometime during the 1930s the family moved a bit south closer to Cambridge (Furnas County)
and for at least one year my dad was with the CCC at Custer, South Dakota. This most likely
accounts for why he graduated from Cambridge High School in 1939 at the age of 19.

One year later, in June 1940, he enlisted in the US Navy at the recruiting station in Hastings,
Nebraska. From his file from the NPRC I learned that my dad was 5'6" tall and weighed 127 lbs.

His first assignment was training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Upon completion
of boot camp he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma which was based at Bremerton,

This is how I learned that my dad attended Cambridge High School

By December 1941, the USS Oklahoma was in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor and was there when the Japs
attacked on 7 December 1941.My dad escaped without apparent injury as he was assigned to the
USS Helena on 24 December 1941.

The USS Helena had been damaged during the attack, but temporary repairs allowed the ship to
set sail for the West Coast and Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The ship was there from early January
until mid-July 1942 and this would have been the time when he met my mom. They were never

The Helena left San Francisco Bay the afternoon of 21 July 1942 and escorted a convoy of 8 ships to
the South Pacific. From mid-August 1942 until July 1943 she participated in 12 Naval Engagements
and also served to escort and protect the USS ENTERPRISE and USS LONG ISLAND.

I have not been able to determine what my dad's primary responsibility on the USS Helena was.
Three torpedoes hit the ship during the Battle of Kula Gulf on the night of 5-6 July 1943. My dad
was one of 168 crew members who did not survive the attack.

It is impossible to know if he was killed immediately when the ship was hit or if he survived only to
drown in Kula Gulf.

The book Sunk in Kula Gulf by John Domalgowski details what the survivors went through while
they were in the water. Some men simply gave up and drifted away while others were injured so
badly that they were not able to survive.

The location of the USS Helena at the bottom of Kula Gulf is considered to be a military gravesite,
with all the respect that is accorded to those buried on land.

There is a Memorial Wall at the American Military Cemetery in Manila, Phillipine Islands, that lists
most of the men who did not survive. The presumed date of death for these men is 10 August 1945.
(Section 5, Public Law 490, 7 Mar 42).

Page from Kansas Deaths in WWII National Archives

This was my first clue that this is the correct Kenneth Graff
His mother visited the home where I was living with my maternal grandparents during WWII.
They told me to call her Grandma Childs.

Leavenworth National Cemetery
Leavenworth, Kansas

My dad now has a Memorial Marker on United States of America soil
Section MA, Site 159

On 21 March 2017 the curator at the Republic County Historical Museum, Belleville, Kansas,
called to let me know that one of the volunteers had discovered my dad's Purple Heart Medal
in their collection.

Above is a photo sent by the museum.

You will see that my dad's name is engraved on the back side.

From both my own and my daughter's research, it appears that Purple Heart Medals awarded
posthumously were engraved by the US Government and then presented to the family.

The handwritten number(s) on the medal are the museum's. When my aunt donated his medals
to the museum, each one had a separate number like this. The '90' refers to the year 1990.

Below far left, is the front of Dad's Purple Heart Medal. Also his other awards

Purple Heart Medal

American Campaign Medal

American Defense Medal

Asiatic Pacific Medal
With Eight (7) Battle Stars

World War II Victory Medal


CL-50 Awards record

Navy Unit Commendation

On 20 December 1944, the Secretary of the Navy with the approval of the President of the United States
made the first award of the newly created NAVY UNIT COMMENDATION to the USS HELENA.


"For outstanding heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces afloat in the Solomon Islands -
New Georgia Areas. Gallantly carrying the fight to the enemy, the USS HELENA opened the night
Battle of Cape Espereance on 11-12 October 1942 boldly sending her fire into the force of enemy warships,
sinking a hostile destroyer and hold­ing to a minimum the damage to our destroyers in the rear of the Task Force.
She engaged at close quarters a superior force of hostile combatant ships in the Battle of Guadalcanal on the
night of 12-13 November 1942, rallying our own forces after the Flag Ship had been disabled and contributing to
the enemy's defeat. In her final engagement in the pre-dawn battle of 5-6 July 1943, the HELENA valiantly sailed
down the restricted and submarine-infested waters of Kula Gulf under the terrific torpedo and gun fire of the enemy
to bombard Kolombangara and New Georgia while covering the landing of our troops at Rice Anchorage, and
twenty-four hours later, her blazing guns aided in the destruction of a vastly superior enemy naval force before she
was fatally struck by Japanese torpedos. Her brave record of combat achievement is evidence of the HELENA'S
intrepidity and the heroic fighting spirit of her officers and men.

Presidential Memorial Certificate
Issued July 2013

The above image is from the Cambridge, Nebraska, museum.
I am extremely pleased that his high school honored him and the other five men killed in WWII.

Was your Father killed in WWII?
Click HERE!

Kenneth E. Graff Memorial Plaque
Click HERE!

Doug Graff Comella's "Tribute" to his Father.
Click HERE!

Shipmate Collections