Navy Memorabilia

Witham, Kenneth W.

Rank: Gunners Mate 2C
Serial Number: 3166310
Military Branch: USS Nashville, CL43
Origin: Nebraska
Date of Death: 1943-5-13
Manila American Cemetery
Featured: No

Kenneth Willard Witham was born in Nebraska in 1922. The 1930 census shows him at home in Todd Creek, Nebraska with his parents Willard and Edith and younger brother, Willie. The 1940 census shows him as a trainee at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, after his enlistment February 7, 1940 in Omaha. On May 4, 1940, Apprentice Seaman Witham reported to the USS Nashville where he stayed until his death.

USS Nashville was one of the escorts for USS Hornet that launched the Doolittle raid on Japan in 1942, and Witham would have been on board at that time.

On December 31, 1941 Witham's rate is GM3C, then December 31, 1942 it is GM2C. The Nashville Muster Role for May 22, 1943 shows that GM2C Witham was killed May 13, 1943 and was buried at sea on May 14, 1943. Another sailor, S2c Luther Swan was also killed, and buried at sea. They were two of 19 Navy and Marine personnel killed when No. 3 six inch gun turret exploded. Seventeen others were wounded as well. No. 3 turret was located forward just in front of the bridge structure. In the months prior to, and at the time of the explosion, attacks were being made by Naval gunfire on Kolombangara and New Georgia. While shelling Vila airfield on Kolombangara on the night of May 12, the No. 3 turret exploded.

According to the book "Humble Heroes" by Steven Bustin, the son of one of Nashville's surviving sailors, the explosion occurred on the 13th salvo, when a powder charge exploded prematurely. The explosion went DOWN three decks under the turret and killed and wounded many. According to the book, most of the dead were Marines, who were manning the turret. The Marines are credited with flooding the magazine and preventing a more serious explosion. During the entire episode, the ship's operational guns continued to fire on their target. Each turret was a Mark 16/1 triple 6 in /47, so when it exploded, it took out three guns, leaving the ship with 2 operational turrets forward and 2 aft.

GM2C Witham's goup includes his officially engraved posthumous Type 1 Purple Heart and a Navy short titled Purple Heart presentation case, plus copies of internet research.

SOLD to a collector 04-2021 

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