Last Sunday, on this Years of Yore page, the story of Ensign David Roche was shared. He was a Navy pilot in World War Two who so distinguished himself that, after his death, a new Navy ship, a destroyer escort, was named for him.
The U.S.S. Roche was christened on January 9, 1944, at the Port Newark New Jersey Shipyard.
Five months earlier, on the other side of the country, at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington, another Hibbing boy, Kenneth Frederick Greiner, was also honored.
Then, in June, 1944, the Village of Hibbing was honored by the Navy for its amazing efforts in the war.
The following article was written by Isabelle Rinaldi. The first part of her article appeared last week. It was originally published in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on June 29, 1946, as part of a special edition of the newspaper.
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
Warship Carries Name that Honors Hero
It was June 4, 1942, Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The Japanese had waged an attack on American coastal defenses in Alaska. The all-clear signal had not yet sounded.
But a young naval officer, ever mindful of the men in his care, rose from his shelter to make an inspection before allowing any of them to emerge.
A flashing wing, a deafening crash, a cloud rising heaven-ward, and a boy, whose love for his homeland’s 10,000 lakes had brought him to the sea, was dead!
The flashing wing was that of a Japanese Zero aircraft. The deafening crash was the deadly cargo it dropped. The cloud was a spirit rising to its reward in death for its country. The boy was Kenny – Lieutenant Kenneth Frederick Greiner – who used to paddle a canoe on the blue waters of his North Star state, now an officer in the U.S. Navy.
But now he was gone. Hibbing’s second fatality in World War II. (Hibbing’s 1st Casualty in World War II was John Fabian Nehiba.)
And after him a mighty ship was named. For Kenny, of whom his commanding officer wrote, in giving his mother, Mrs. Bertha Greiner, her son’s Purple Heart, “Young Ken was a fine man, an able officer, sincere – in life a great asset to the Navy and in death one whose memory we shall always revere.”
Hibbingites remember Kenny as an active youth –what with Boy Scout work, DeMolay activities, leader duties in the Presbyterian church’s Young People’s Society, and building, buying and selling boats.
His education followed the usual trend of a typical Hibbingite. The grade school here, the high school graduation in 1929, the Junior College. And then on to the University of Minnesota.
A knack for tinkering had led him into the field of civil engineering, his major at JC and at the “U”.
As soon as he graduated from the “U”, Ken enlisted in the Naval Air Corps, with Wold-Chamberlain Field in Minneapolis as his station. Later he would be sent to Pensacola, Florida. Eventually, as the Navy had too many pilots to fulfill the requirements of a peacetime air corps, Kenny was given an honorable discharge and assigned to the Reserves.
That was 1935 and the War was still very far away.
So for five years, Ken worked for the Minnesota Highway Department.
Already the storm clouds were gathering, though, and in March, 1941, Ken was called to active duty, commissioned a lieutenant, junior grade, and given an assignment. He was assigned to his Alma Mater to handle 34 graduate engineers – ensigns to be – in an aeronautics course.
Next, on September 23, 1941, came his shipping orders. He would be heading to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. A few months later Pearl Harbor and “a day that will live in infamy” shook the world. War flared in the South Pacific.
And a young lieutenant in the North Pacific wrote home of his seeking a transfer to Australia where he might “see action – real action – against the enemy.”
The transfer didn’t come. But action did, and the Navy Lieutenant died.
Keen, direct, courageous, modest, sincere, honest, and generous, the unassuming – almost shy – Kenny Greiner died for America.
A year after his death, June, 1943, his mother was informed by Secretary Frank Knox of the U.S. Navy Department that on August 18, 1943, a ship would be commissioned, a destroyer escort, named the U.S.S. Greiner.
At noon on that August day, Mrs. Greiner saw the stately vessel turn seaward at Puget Sound, Washington.
The U.S.S. Greiner was a Evarts-class destroyer escort. She was sent into the Pacific to protect convoys and other ships from Japanese submarines and fighter aircraft. She performed dangerous work in numerous battle areas and sailed home proudly with three battle stars. She was decommissioned in late 1945 and sold to a shipping company for civilian use.
Warship Honors Hibbing’s War Effort
Only about 25 Hibbingites witnessed the launching of the U.S.S. Hibbing Victory at Portland, Oregon, in June, 1944. But from the way those people cheered, it might have been 250!
Among those viewing the thrilling spectacle was Private Jack Sjostrom, of the Army Engineers, who provided those at home with the detailed and official story of the launching of the vessel named for the Ore Capital because of its well-performed, heavy role in the war.
The red-white-blue-ribboned bottle that was smashed over Hibbing Victory’s bow by JoAnne Bush, queen of the Portland Rose Festival and ship “sponsor,” even now holds an honored spot in the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce display of Ore Capital mementoes.
For the story, we turn to Jack’s letter:
“… the launching party left for the launching platform down on the Willamette River. The reception was very congenial and called a car, plus a hostess guide, to take me to the Yards where the main party was waiting for the ceremonies to begin. We made our way through crowds of people, and it was then I could see the huge letters on the top of the ship – Hibbing Victory. Oh, how nervous and thrilled I was!
“The queen of the Rose Festival was the sponsor (An ancient tradition, followed by the Navy, whereby a civilian female bestows good luck and divine protection onto the vessel and all who sail aboard the vessel.) She and her attendants were seated on one side of the stand along with the junior queen and her prime minister. Mr. Bauer, manager of the Oregon Shipyards; Hal Babbit, director of public relations; Mr. Oldham, a former businessman from Hibbing; Dr. McClure, Queen JoAnne’s minister, and I, were on the other side.
“To start the ceremonies, the flag was raised and four shipyards guards sang the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ Mr. Bauer was master of ceremonies and he read the letter from the Chamber of Commerce of Hibbing and greetings from Hibbing’s Mayor Helmer Frankson.
“Mr. Bauer’s own statement was, ‘Today we are honoring Hibbing, the richest village in the world. From this village, rich in the iron ore which built the arsenal of democracy, rich with the youth of patriots who serve our nation, rich with the pride of America, we honor Hibbing.”
“And then Dr. McClure gave a prayer….
“About this time, all was ready for the ship to go down the ways. The two burners started in on each side of the ship as the sponsor went to the christening step. She stood there with the bottle for about 30 seconds.
“Then there was a splash and the Hibbing Victory rolled down the ways!
“It was beautiful and many say it was the nicest launching they had ever seen.
“Photographers were all over the place, and flash bulbs were flashing constantly.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and only wish that all of Hibbing could have seen it. How proud and thrilled they’d have been!”
The U.S.S. Hibbing Victory was built in 59 days under the Emergency Shipbuilding Program for World War II. Her job was to carry equipment and supplies of all sorts to other ships and remote stations and staging areas. She performed her duties until the War’s end, then was laid up on the East Coast as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet. In 1950 she was returned to service for the Korean War. In 1954 she was re-fitted and given a new name, Denebola. She worked in NATO exercises and replenished ships throughout the Mediterranean Sea. She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1976.