Kenneth Martin Willett

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Kenneth Martin Willett
Born(1919-04-09)April 9, 1919
Overland, Missouri
DiedSeptember 27, 1942(1942-09-27) (aged 23)
South Atlantic Ocean
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Naval Reserve
Years of service1940–1942
RankLieutenant, junior grade
UnitNaval Armed Guard on board freighter SS Stephen Hopkins
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsNavy Cross (posthumous)

Lt. Kenneth Martin Willett (April 9, 1919 – September 27, 1942) was an American naval reserve officer who died in during World War II in the South Atlantic Ocean. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

Early naval career[edit]

Willett enlisted in the Naval Reserve as an apprentice seaman on July 9, 1940. Appointed to the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School, he was commissioned as an Ensign and assigned to the USS California (BB-44), where he served until November 1941. He then reported to the 12th Naval District for duty at the Armed Guard Center, San Francisco, California, in January 1942. While serving as commanding officer of the Naval Armed Guard on board the freighter SS Stephen Hopkins, he was promoted to Lieutenant (j.g.) on June 15.


While en route from Cape Town, South Africa to Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana, his freighter was attacked on September 27, 1942 by two enemy surface raiders. Though seriously wounded by one of the first enemy shells, Lt. Willett manned the 4-inch gun and fired shell after shell into the nearer, more heavily armed raider. Inflicting heavy damage on both enemy ships, his accurate fire eventually sank one of them. Even after an exploding magazine silenced his gun, Lt. Willett refused to give up his struggle for both ship and crew. When last seen, although weakened and suffering, he was helping to launch life rafts from the flaming freighter in an effort to save lives. For his "great personal valor and gallant spirit of self-sacrifice," Lt. Willett was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.


The destroyer escort USS Kenneth M. Willett was named in his honor and launched on March 7, 1944 in Orange, Texas. It was sponsored by Mrs. D.C. Willett, mother of Lt. Willett, and commissioned in July 1944 with Lt. Cmdr. J.M. Stuart in command.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.