Take a Mud Water Sailor to Sea

And He Becomes Head of U.S. Battle Fleet

Henderson, Kentucky, January 18, 1941

Henderson, Ky., Jan. 18 - (Special) - Rear Admiral Husband Edward Kimmel has a house in Washington; a suite of offices in Washington; a cabin aboard his flagship; and a place to hang his hat and spare shirt on any ship in the U.S. Navy.

But just ask the new commander of the United States fleets where "home" is and he'll invariably reply-"512 N. Green Street, Henderson, Ky."

You can take that on no less an authority than Singleton Husband Kimmel, brother of the Admiral. And if you want to you can verify it with Joel Lambert Kimmel, another brother.

Both Lambert and Singleton make their bachelor quarters in the big rambling frame house at 512 N. Green Street. Just the two of them-that's all the Kimmels there are in Henderson today. They kind of rattle around in the old Kimmel home for it wasn't designed for two. Eleven wouldn't overcrowd it.

* * *

In fact once that many were there when Major Manning M. Kimmel lived. The major was the father of Admiral Kimmel, Singleton and Lambert. Of the seven Kimmel children (three boys and four girls) one other son is living-Manning-a Major in his own right.

In Henderson today you won't hear about any boyhood pranks that were pulled by Hubby Kimmel. He wasn't built that way. He was more serious minded, studious.

Singleton, 12 years older than the admiral, says that Husband was valedictorian of his high school graduating class.

"Naturally," he said, "the whole family attended the exercises to hear Hubby's address. He was 16 then.

"Everything went well until about the middle of the speech. Husband bogged down, stammered, forgot his carefully rehearsed lines.

"Father, smilingly, chided Hubby about his lapse of memory at the dinner table that evening.

"'Heck!' exploded Hubby, 'I didn't forget anything! I'd been going so fast, I just ran out of wind!'"

For 20 years Singleton Kimmel was Henderson city engineer and for four years, country road engineer.

"The admiral used to haunt my office," he said. "He learned everything he could about the business, served as my surveying party rodman for a while.

"He always wanted to know the 'whys' and 'wherefores' of everything.

* * *

"I remember that when he was still in high school he went out and surveyed the old Lambert farm, plotted it, drew a map of it, located all the buildings.

"And, by George, it was correct."

Singleton feels his Navy brother hadn't the slightest idea he was to receive another promotion-a promotion carrying him to the top of the ladder.

"Why I just had a letter from him a week or so ago in which he promised himself a long visit to Henderson just as soon as his cruise was over. He didn't know anything about the promotion then.

"That's one thing you can be sure of with the admiral. He'll either tell you the truth about anything or say nothing at all. There's no deceit in him."

As an illustration, Singleton pointed to a picture of Admiral Kimmel, complete in full dress uniform and cocked hat, hanging above the radio.

"When that arrived," he said, "Lambert and I noticed he was wearing three medals. We'd never heard of him getting a medal before, much less three of them.

"We had to get in touch with his sons before we learned what the decorations were all about.

* * *

"I remember one medal was for service in Mexico. That was when he was a lieutenant about World War I days.

"Anyhow his ship was off the west coast of Mexico. Patrol duty. The ship was lying offshore nearly a mile. Hubby was on deck when someone from shore fired at the ship.

"The bullet hit a steel stanchion, splattered and struck Hubby in the shoulder and thigh.

"He wasn't hurt badly.

"The admiral told us afterwards he would have been perfectly justified in ordering his men to fire at the shore marksman, but he held his tongue and probably saved this country another war.

"Later he registered a formal complaint with Mexican officials. They told him the man had already been caught and executed. Hubby never quite believed that."

There have been any number of yarns told recently about Husband Kimmel's first encounter with water...other than a bathtub. When his sailboat capsized and he with a couple of his mud-water sailor companions had to be fished out of the Ohio River he immediately offered his craft for sale.

* * *

"Hubby was always more of a hunter than a fisherman," comments Brother Singleton.

"Father used to encourage us boys to go hunting. He furnished all the ammunition we needed which was quite decent of him for he wasn't at all wealthy.

"We boys would hitch up one of the horses to a spring wagon and ride out to the woods."

While the admiral may not have been much of an Ohio River sailor he apparently grew to love the sea.

"A few years ago, before he became an admiral, Hubby told me he was in a position that he'd never have to go to sea again if he didn't want to.

"'Hell's fire,' Hubby told me then, 'If I'm not ordered out I'll get on some admiral's staff and go out to sea anyhow.'

"He's an old sea dog now," laughed Singleton.

In the Kimmel home is a printed booklet telling of the Navy goodwill tour of South America in 1939. Three cruisers went on that expedition with Husband Kimmel in command.

The booklet doesn't mention that when the cruisers tackled the Straits of Magellan they hit heavy weather, terrific winds, driving snow, and the hazard of ice on either side of the narrow winding course.

"The admiral could only find one straits pilot, a Swede, and so the other cruisers were told to duplicate every move made by the lead ship," Singleton Kimmel said.

"Hubby was on deck for 24 hours straight.

"There was a photographer for Life's Magazine along and he took some shots of the storm. Later on the admiral was quoted as saying it was the worst storm he'd seen since 1919.

* * *

"Hubby wrote to us that was just a "damn lie," he hadn't said anything like that.

"But it looked like a sure-enough storm to landlubbers like Lambert and me."

Singleton Kimmel likes to tell how his brother, the new fleets commander, is the runt of the Kimmel family. (Singleton himself just edges away from this doubtful title by a bare half inch.); and how Husband once established a ship gunnery record that amazed even Admiral Dewey.

When a lieutenant-commander, Husband Kimmel invented a seagoing gun range finder that Singleton says is still used aboard ship.

That was in World War I days too.

"The British government asked that Hubby be sent there to demonstrate his new range finder," Mr. Kimmel said.

"And so he went taking along 11 men with him.

"The English, after looking over the range finder told him that it might be practical in the Atlantic but that it wasn't feasible for ships in the North Sea because of the rougher weather there.

"Husband denied that, said it would work just the same. And so he and his men got busy and installed his range finder on a British cruiser and took a test voyage.

"It worked perfectly!"

"Husband said the English treated him like an ambassador after that instead of a plain lieutenant-commander."

* * *

It has been three years now since Admiral Kimmel visited his home at 512 N. Green Street. It's been longer than that since he really lived there.

But he'd find little changed even since he was a boy.

Gnarled old trees still line the 200-foot walk from the street back to the home. The immense yard, its informal planting remains the same. About the only thing new "Hubby" Kimmel would find on his walk to the house is a post and bracket for display of the United States flag.

Inside it's a familiar scene-the long cool front hallway-the cheery sitting room to the left on whose walls hang pictures of Hubby Kimmel himself, his children, the West Point diplomas of Hubby's father and his brother; his own "sheepskin" from Annapolis.

Fittings of the formal parlor are garnished with bits of bric-a-brack the admiral himself shipped home from foreign parts. And there's an oil painting of turbaned gentleman who Mr. Singleton Kimmel identified as "the first Kimmel in the United States." He was Polish.

Strangely enough Singleton has been having all sorts of requests for pictures of this turbaned ancestor since Hubby became an admiral.

"People want to hang their names on our family tree now that Hubby's prominent," Singleton explains with a wry smile.

* * *

Major Manning Marius Kimmel in whose footsteps his son Husband wanted to follow (but was detoured into the Naval Academy when there were no vacancies in West Point) almost didn't get to West Point himself.

If Princeton University had been a little more relenting toward Manning he might not have even thought about West Point.

As Singleton Kimmel tells the story their father was booted out of Princeton when he sponsored a student indignation meeting against the faculty's ruling that no students should frequent a certain "billiard-saloon." The meeting was duly held and Manning, a junior, duly given the bounce though Princeton, after Manning Kimmel's graduation from West Point, conferred upon him an honorary degree of bachelor of arts.

Singleton knows all sorts of Army stories about his father. How out in Utah as a young officer he shot and killed a buffalo intended as meat for camp and how the soldiers sent out after the carcass never could find the animal; how out in Texas when some of the officers had been imbibing some rather strong "tonic" Colonel (later General) Robert E. Lee rode into camp and at mess offered the officers a small swig of sherry from a bottle in his saddlebags. And the officers, though they drank it, allowed privately that they'd just as soon have weak water.

And how Major Manning was a member of the federal forces when the Civil War broke out and though a southern sympathizer took part in the Battle of Bull Run--the first battle in which the South mopped up the North.

* * *

"Father tried unsuccessfully to get a leave," Singleton said. "Finally he was granted one on the dodge that his grandmother in Philadelphia was seriously ill.

"He headed straight for Louisville, mailed his resignation to the Army from there, and then went directly to Richmond to enlist under the Confederacy."

Major Manning Kimmel was in Houston, Tex., without a dime to his name, except in Confederate money, when Lee surrendered.

"Newspapers had been publishing that all West Pointers in the southern army were going to be hanged." Singleton said, "and father wasn't any too easy about the situation.

"He borrowed a few dollars from a friend and with a number of other southern officers slipped into Mexico. A Colonel Talcott, a southern man, then building the Vera Cruz-City of Mexico Railroad gave the whole group jobs. Father became a civil engineer.

"He stayed there for 18 months until his father in Cape Girardeau, Mo., wrote for him to come home, saying he was seriously ill and had arranged with authorities that Manning wouldn't be arrested when he came into the country."

* * *

Singleton Kimmel relished the story of how his grandfather turned over to Manning four sacks which he had hidden in the loft. The sacks contained $20,000 in gold.

In 1868, following his father's death, Major Manning came to Henderson to visit, as Singleton says, "his kinfolks.

"Here he met Sibbie Lambert," Singleton said, "and married her.

"Father opened the coal mines at St. Charles, Ky., and later on was in the retail coal business here in Henderson.

"You see," explained Singleton, "I know more about my father than I do Admiral Hubby. But I know still more stories about our Brother Major Manning. He raised all the ned around our house. I'm saving those stories until Manning becomes a general!"

Details on the pages of the Kimmel Family Record web site come from the collection of
Timothy W. Kimmel of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  You can contact Tim at tim@kimmelfamily.net

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