Branch: U. S. Navy
Rank: Yeoman 3rd Class
Status: Lost at sea
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: Minerva Township
Keith Torkildson’s memorial headstone in Bagley City Cemetery
Keith B. Thorkildson was born November 21, 1924 in Glyndon, Minnesota to parents Gustav L. and Ethel Barron Torkildson. Gustav and Ethel married in 1914 and made their home in Glyndon where Gustav worked in a potato warehouse. In 1928 Gustav found a farm to buy in Minerva Township in Clearwater County and moved the small family there. Keith had three sisters: Enid (Garrett Benson), Jean (Vern Hallan) and Vivian.
Keith attended school in Minerva and graduated from Bagley High School in 1942. He registered for the draft on December 23, 1942 in Bagley. He noted that he was employed by Mr. G. L. Hope in a garage in Fessenden, North Dakota. He was a tall, slim young man – 6’1”, 140 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair.
Keith enlisted in the Navy Reserves on August 14, 1943 in Minneapolis and underwent boot camp at the Farragut Naval Training Station in northern Idaho. After boot camp Keith remained stationed at Farragut until October, 1944 when he received orders to report to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington to board the destroyer USS Hull (DD350).
The Hull anchored at Pearl Harbor before being ordered by General William Halsey Jr. to join a 3rd Fleet refueling group which was leaving on November 20, 1944 to rendezvous with fast carrier striking forces in the Philippine Sea. Fueling operations began on December 17th but were canceled on the same day due to increasingly heavy seas. Barometers were falling and winds were increasing to above 90 knots, heralding an approaching typhoon named Cobra. Admiral Halsey ordered the ship to change course to 140 degrees which turned out to be directly into the heart of the typhoon and the wind increased to over 100 knots (115 m.p.h.).
The Hull was a top-heavy Farragut-class destroyer which had been refitted with over 500 long tons of extra equipment and armament. This caused water to flood down its smokestacks and disable its engines, leaving the ship at the mercy of the wind and sea. Some time before 11:00 hours on December 18th some officers debated removing Captain Marks from his command in order to turn the ship to a safer course, but the executive officer refused to do so on the grounds that there had never been a mutiny on a U. S. Navy ship. (This incident was the inspiration for Herman Wouk’s novel “The Caine Mutiny.) Admiral Halsey was found by a subsequent Court of Inquiry to have committed an “error of judgment.”
All hands worked desperately to keep the ship afloat but the ship couldn’t stay upright. In all, 790 men of the fleet of 86 vessels lost their lives in the typhoon, including 55 enlisted sailors aboard the Hull and 11 officers. Three destroyers capsized and sank, nine other warships were damaged, and over 100 aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard.
In early January Gust and Ethel were notified that their only son, Yeoman 3rd class Keith B Torkildson, was missing. A telegram from the Navy Department later in January stated. “A careful review of all the facts available relating to the disappearance of your son, Keith B. Torkildson, Y 3-c, USNR, previously reported missing, leads to the conclusion that there is no hope for his survival and that he lost his life as a result of a typhoon on December 18, 1944 while in the service of his country. If additional information is received it will be forwarded to you promptly.”
Memorial services for Keith were held Sunday, February 25th at the Congregational Church in Bagley. Services began promptly at 3:00 p.m. with the Rev. Spencer Bower in charge of the services. Keith’s death marked the first casualty on the Congregational Church Service Flag.
Keith is memorialized on the “Tablets of the Missing in Action or Buried at Sea” at Manila American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines. He is also memorialized with a headstone at the Bagley City Cemetery. Keith Torkildson was 20 years old.