Branch: U. S. Navy
Rank: Fire Controlman 1st Class
Status: Died of wounds
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: Copley Township
Ralph Raymond Kugel was born January 13, 1918 in Benson County, North Dakota to parents Louis Henry and Gertrude Kennedy Kugel. Louis was a native South Dakotan of German heritage and Gertrude was Minnesotan. They met and married in 1910 and rented a farm in Irvine Township in Benson County where three children were born to them: William (1914), Ralph (1918) and Jean (1922). Gertrude’s widowed father Frank Kennedy lived with the family until his death.
In the mid-1930s the family moved to a home in Copley Township, Clearwater County, Minnesota, where Louis found a job with the WPA on a road construction ditching crew. William also found work as a teamster in a logging camp and Ralph on a WPA sewer project. Jean became a clerical assistant in the Register of Deeds Office in Bagley.
Ralph enlisted in the U. S. Navy Reserve on September 24, 1940 in Minneapolis. After boot camp and training school, he was assigned to the USS Colorado (BB45), a Standard-type battleship with eight oil-fired boilers and eight 16” guns in four twin turrets, plus a secondary battery of 12 to 14 5” guns and four 3” anti-aircraft guns. By February of 1942 Seaman 1st class Ralph had been promoted to Fire Controlman 3rd Class. Fire Controlmen typically operate weapon systems on board surface combatant ships. They are trained in the repair, maintenance, operation and employment of weapons and are responsible for the operation of various forms of , plus solving calculations to control the firing of the ship’s guns.
Ralph spent his entire enlistment aboard the USS Colorado, apart from short training sessions at Naval Operating Base, Kodiak, Alaska in January of 1943 and at the Waianaie (Hawaii) Amphibious Training Base in October of 1943. He received a promotion to Fire Controlman 2nd class in the summer of 1943, and in December of that year was promoted to Fire Controlman 1st Class (E-6).
In May of 1942, the Colorado carried out extensive training maneuvers along the West Coast, especially near the Golden Gate Bridge, to stop a possible Japanese invasion. She then returned to Pearl Harbor to complete her final preparations for action. From November 1942 to September 1943 the Colorado operated in the vicinity of the Fiji Islands and New Hebrides to prevent further Japanese expansion in the Pacific. November of 1943 found her providing pre-invasion shelling and fire support for the invasion of Tarawa, and on January 22, 1944 she left for the Marshall Islands to provide pre-invasion bombardment and fire support for the invasions of Kwajalein and Eniwetok. Her mission was to destroy fortifications along the beaches and support the assault waves by pounding the enemy troop areas immediately adjacent to the landing points. On Eniwetok, her big guns swept the beaches clear of landing obstacles on February 17th and provided cover for the assault forces as they fanned out from their beachheads.
After a short overhaul in the Puget Sound Navy Yard beginning March 14, 1944, the Colorado left for the Mariana Islands on May 5, 1944. Here, she was dedicated to the pre-invasion shelling at Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Resistance on Saipan was stronger than expected, so the planned invasion of Guam and Tinian had to be postponed. Throughout the month of June and well into July the Colorado delivered call fire on targets of opportunity at Saipan.
During the shelling of Tinian on July 24, the Colorado received unexpected resistance from shore installations. Her first battle damage came as a result of accurate fire from the Japanese batteries, with 22 shells in total ripping into the Colorado. Forty-three men were killed, and 198 wounded. Fire Controlman 1st class Ralph Kugel was among the wounded – so severely he was transferred that day to the USS Tryon, (APH-1), a hospital transport, to be sent for treatment. Unfortunately, his wounds were so severe he died the next day. His parents, who had moved to Chula Vista, California after he enlisted, were informed of his death.
Ralph was initially buried in the 2nd Marine Division Cemetery, Saipan, but he was disinterred and reinterred on February 23, 1949 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. He was 26 years old.