Sailor born in Berthoud died at Pearl Harbor

By Mark French

The Surveyor

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced in January this year that the remains of a World World War II veteran born in Berthoud had been identified. The veteran, David Leland Kesler, lost his life on the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Berthoud Historical Society was caught off guard by the news since long-time local historian Helen McCarty Fickel had made a point to identify the Berthoud men and women who served in both world wars. Why Kesler’s name did not appear on Fickel’s lists was a mystery.

The 23-year-old Kesler, a sailor ranked Baker 2nd Class, was among 429 sailors who lost their lives on the ship. Ironically Kesler’s younger brother Gerald was also on board the USS Oklahoma but he was among 32 sailors that managed to survive. Sadly Gerald Kesler was reassigned to the USS Northampton only to lose his life during the Battle of Tassafronga on November 30, 1942.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense – David L. Kesler

After learning that David Kesler had been born in Berthoud, local historical society directors Joyce Chaput and Mark French set out to uncover his story. Through Chaput’s extensive genealogical research and several hours spent by French digging through old newspapers the saga of the Kesler family’s life in the Berthoud area began to take shape.

David L. Kesler’s grandfather, Oaty Kesler, brought the family to Berthoud from Texas in February 1906. Kesler came to farm a half-section of land located northeast of Berthoud that was owned by his cousin W.T.W. “Alphabet” Smith. Kesler was 51 years of age at the time and was accompanied by his second wife Mary and children Dupey, Ernest, Taylor, and Eula. 

In September 1914 Oaty Kesler’s third son, Taylor was married to Miss Eva Merrick. A son, David Leland Kesler, was born to them in August 1918, most likely at home rather than in a hospital. The Berthoud Bulletin did not announce the birth of David Kesler. However, on August 30, 1918, the newspaper noted, “Mrs. J.A. Merrick of Federal, Wyoming, is visiting her daughter, Mrs. Taylor Kesler. She came down to see the new grandson.”

Prior to David Kesler’s birth his father had taken the first step in beginning a life beyond Berthoud by purchasing land adjoining his father’s-in-law ranch near Federal, Wyoming (west of Cheyenne). By the time Taylor and Eva Kesler settled on their Wyoming ranch in February 1919 their son David was less than six months in age.

Since historian Helen McCarty Fickel compiled rosters of local men and women who came of age in Berthoud before they entered military service Kesler’s name escaped her lists.

From there Ms. Chaput fleshed out the story of David Kesler from census and military records. In 1930 he was living with his parents and three siblings in Loveland, Colorado. Census records from 1935 show that the Kesler family was living near North Platte, Nebraska, where 20-year-old David enlisted in the Navy on August 17, 1938, and his younger brother Gerald joined on April 19, 1939.  

Both boys were eventually assigned to the USS Oklahoma that was stationed in Bremerton, Washington. In Bremerton in August 1940 David Kesler was married to Mary Phillips with Gerald serving as witness.

On December 7, 1941, a date that President Franklin D. Roosevelt described as the “day that will live in infamy,” David Kesler and hundreds of his fellow shipmates on the USS Oklahoma lost their lives in the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

David Leland Kessler’s time living in Berthoud was brief—possibly five or six months before his father relocated his wife and baby to a ranch near Federal, Wyoming.

For almost 80 years Kesler’s remains were interred in a cemetery in Hawaii. In 2015 the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense directed remains associated with the USS Oklahoma to be disinterred and undergo DNA analysis. Kesler’s remains were identified so his name on a monument in the Court of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery at the Punchbowl on Oahu. Hawaii, will receive a rosette to indicate that he has been accounted for. 

David Kesler spent the first few months of his life in Berthoud. Now the mystery surrounding his birthplace has also been put to rest.

Tags: , , , ,