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First Name: Keith

Last Name: Mills

Birthplace: Lincoln, Lancaster, NE, US

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)

Rating: Ship's Cook Petty Officer 3rd Class

Home of Record: NE
Middle Name: LeRoy

Date of Birth: 29 October 1920

Date of Death: 25 November 1945 (Presumed)

MIA Date: 01 March 1942

Rank or Rate: Petty Officer Third Class

Years Served: 1939-1945

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Keith LeRoy was one of six children born to Franklin Marshall and Alice May “Elsie” (Zichek) Mills. They married on 12 Jan 1915 in Lincoln, Lancaster, NE at the home of Franklin’s parents, Mr and Mrs Benjamin Franklin Mills. Franklin worked for the Lincoln newspapers for most of his adult life.

The first child born to Franklin and Alice was a daughter who was still-born. The next five were sons. The first son was Robert Franklin Mills. The next four were two sets of twins; Floyd Erwin and Lloyd Everett Mills then Keith LeRoy and Kenneth Ray Mills. Keith and Kenneth were born in Lincoln, Lancaster, NE on 29 Oct 1920. During their formative years, the five brothers were a competitive lot. During high school they engaged in a full schedule of sports and extra-curricula activities. Keith was pitcher for the Lincoln high school base ball team. Keith and Kenneth were Golden Glove champions in Nebraska in the 1930s and presented hundreds of exhibition boxing matches throughout the state. Keith was known as the “Young Tunney,” and Kenneth as “Young Dempsey.”

Keith graduated from Lincoln High School, Lincoln, Lancaster, NE at commencement exercises held at St Paul Methodist church on Wednesday night, 7 Jun 1939. Shortly after graduation, Keith followed his twin, Kenneth, into the military. He began the application process to enlist in the US Navy at the Navy Recruiting Station (NRS) in Lincoln, NE. Over the next several months, Keith completed general aptitude examinations; submitted personal references, completed administrative paperwork, passed background checks and successfully passed physical and dental examinations. He also obtained his father's permission to enlist. Keith was accepted for enlistment in early Sept 1939.

Keith enlisted in the US Navy (NSN: 316-60-20) on Tuesday, 19 Sep 1939, with 18 other Nebraskans as an Apprentice Seaman (A.S.) at the NRS, Omaha, NE for a period of 3 years or his 21st birthday whichever came first. There were a total of thirty-two men from five states in this group of enlistees. AS Mills was sent to the Naval Training Station (NTS), Great Lakes, IL to begin 9 weeks of recruit training. Upon completion of his training, AS Mills was granted a five day “Recruit Leave” to visit home. He arrived home to open arms by family on the morning of 23 Nov 1939. While Keith was home it seems that his mother, the Great Lakes chaplain and a member of the Lincoln recruiting station worked together thru the navy to have Keith join his twin, Kenneth, on the new light cruiser, USS Helena (CL-50) in Brooklyn, NY.

After his leave, AS Mills returned to NTS, Great Lakes where he was issued orders to report for duty to the USS Helena (CL-50) at Brooklyn, NY, with his brother. Kenneth had enlisted in the US Navy on 16 May 1939 in Omaha, NE. He reported on board the Helena on 19 Sep 1939 the same day Keith enlisted. AS Keith Mills reported for duty on board the Helena on 09 Dec 1939 in Brooklyn, NY. Shortly after he reported for duty, AS Mills was advanced in rate to Seaman Second Class (S2c) on 19 Jan 1940. Later that year, S2c Mills advanced in rate again to Seaman First Class (S1c) on 16 Nov 1940. S1c Kenneth R. Mills advanced to Carpenters Mate Third Class (CM3) on the same day. Several Weeks later, CM3 Kenneth R. Mills transferred to the light cruiser, USS Trenton (CL-11) for duty on 30 Nov 1940. CM3 Mills would advance in rate to CM1. On 10 July 1944, CM1 Mills transferred to the Navy Training Center, Miami, FL and then on 08 Mar 1945 to the new stores ship, USS Malabar (AF-37). CM1 Mills was discharged from naval service on 22 Sep 1945. Two days later, he registered for the WWII draft in Lincoln, NE.

S1c Keith L. Mills advanced in rate on board the Helena to Ship’s Cook Third Class (SC3) on 16 Feb 1941. Early in April 1941, SC3 Mills received orders to report to Asiatic-Station for assignment. On 17 April 1941, SC3 Mills transferred from the Helena to report to the transport ship, USS Henderson (AP-1) as a passenger for his ride across the Pacific to the Philippines. Mills reported on board the Henderson on 23 April. Later that day she got underway from Pearl Harbor steaming westward toward the Philippines via Guam, M.I., Midway and Wake Islands. She arrived on 15 May in Manila and disembarked her passengers and unloaded her cargo.

SC3 Mills reported for assignment to the Commander, Destroyer Squadron Twenty-Nine (COMDESRON 29) on board the destroyer tender, USS Black Hawk (AD-9). Mills was assigned to the destroyer, USS Edsall (DD-219) on 15 May and reported to the Edsall for duty on 26 May 1941. While on board Edsall, Keith was middleweight boxing champion of the U.S. Asiatic fleet. He also pitched on the navy nine (baseball team) in many games in Manila, Philippines.


Prelude to War and the Disappearance of the USS Edsall (DD-219)

The threat of hostilities between the United States and Japan grew closer to the boiling point as the year 1941 began. Asiatic Fleet CINC, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, determined that it was time to send all of the families of his sailors home. There was push-back from the resentful spouses who initially declined to leave their husbands. It was only a threat to indefinitely restrict their spouses to their ships without leave that finally convinced the families; it was time to comply with orders and return to the continental United States (CONUS). Admiral Hart's directive probably saved many family members from internment by the Japanese or worse. For many of the married sailors, it was the last time they would ever see their families.

Then, in July 1941, as Japanese aggression intensified with their move south into lower Indo-China, Admiral Hart warned his officers that he had no doubt that war would come although he didn’t know how or when it would start. Hart trained his destroyer crews hard keeping them on a war-footing for extended periods and away from Cavite naval base as much as possible exercising his “defensive deployment.” Ordered to comply with Adm. Hart’s “defensive deployment” well south of Manila, units of the Asiatic Fleet, including destroyer tender USS Blackhawk (AD-9), USS Edsall (DD-219) and other ships of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 57, got underway on 25 Nov 1941, and arrived on the morning of 29 Nov 1941 in Balikpapan, a major oil port on the eastern coast of Borneo.

On 8 Dec 1941, Edsall, an element of Destroyer Division 57 (DESDIV), was enroute to Batavia (Djakarta) when word of the attacks on Pearl Harbor was received. The division altered course to Singapore to act as ASW screen for Force Z. From Singapore, Edsall was sent to search for survivors of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, sunk off Malaya on 10 Dec. No survivors were found. It was learned later that other ships had retrieved the survivors. For the next month, Edsall and other units of DESDIV 57 were used to escort shipping to and from Australia. It was on one of these escort trips that Edsall participated in the sinking of IJN submarine (I-124) off Darwin. Several days later, Edsall was damaged during another attack on a suspected submarine. One of Edsall's depth charges exploded prematurely in shallow water damaging one of Edsall’s propeller shafts. This damage would play an important role in her eventual sinking.

On 3 February, Edsall and other American units of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Force (ABDA) moved up to Tjilatjap, Java in order to be closer to the combat theater and refueling facilities. She continued her service as a patrol vessel off southern Java. On 26 February, she steamed from Tjilatjap with her sister ship USS Whipple (DD-217) to rendezvous with the converted seaplane tender USS Langley (AV-3) carrying P-40E fighters and crews for the defense of Java. On 27 February, the Langley, along with Edsall and Whipple, came under attack by sixteen (16) Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers of the Japanese 21st and 23rd Naval Air Flotillas and escorted by fifteen (15) A6M Reisen fighters. The attack fatally damaged Langley. She had to be abandoned and later scuttled by Whipple. Edsall rescued 177 survivors; Whipple, 308.

On 28 February, the two destroyers rendezvoused with the fuel replenishment ship USS Pecos (AO-6) off Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island some 250 miles southwest of Tjilatjap. A sudden attack by land based Japanese bombers forced Edsall and the other ships to head for the open sea. They headed directly south into the Indian Ocean for the rest of 28 February in high winds and heavy seas.

Early in the pre-dawn hours of 1 March, Whipple and Edsall transferred all the Langley survivors to Pecos. There were now close to 700 personnel on board the ship. Whipple then set off for Cocos Islands as protection for the tanker Belita sent to meet her there. The Pecos, carrying a large number of survivors was ordered to Australia. Edsall had retained 32 USAAF personnel from Langley needed to assemble and fly an additional 27 P-40E fighters shipped to Tjilatjap aboard the transport Sea Witch. Edsall was instructed to return these "fighter crews" to Tjilatjap. At 0830, she reversed course and headed back to the northeast for Java.

At noon that day, planes from Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu attacked Pecos and struck again an hour later. Finally, in mid-afternoon, third and fourth strikes from aircraft carriers Hiryu and Akagi fatally wounded the Pecos. While under attack, Pecos radioed for help. After Pecos sank, Whipple returned to the scene intentionally arriving after dark. She eventually rescued 232 survivors. Many other survivors, although visible to crewmembers on board Whipple, had to be abandoned at sea because Whipple made sonar contact with what was believed to be several Japanese submarines. It was just too dangerous for her to remain in the area. Edsall may have heard Pecos’s call for help or she may have been complying with orders to reverse course and steam toward Australia.

Mr and Mrs Franklin Mills received a telegram on 22 March 1942 from Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of the Bureau of Navigation of the US Navy. It read: "The Navy Department regrets to inform you that the ship to which your son, Keith LeRoy Mills of the US navy was attached, has been lost in action. Information received indicates there may be some survivors, but no positive information regarding your son has been received."

For the next three years in March the Navy sent a letter to Mr and Mrs Mills to update the status of SC3 Mills. In early Dec 1945, the final letter came explaining why SC3 Mills was being declared "presumed" dead. The official date of his "presumed" death was 25 Nov 1945. The final muster report for Edsall on 01 Mar 1942 (written several years later) shows that SC3 Keith LeRoy Mills was missing in action on 01 Mar 1942 and presumed dead on 25 Nov 1945. His remains were unrecoverable.


The Truth Finally Told

For whatever the reason, Edsall reversed course and was never heard from again. The US Navy Department simply said Edsall was lost due to enemy action. The US Navy Department declared all Edsall crewmembers “presumed” dead on 25 Nov 1945. This finding of presumptive death date was fixed in order to take care of settlements and claims. At that point no one suspected that survivors from Edsall were among many victims of war crimes on Celebes.

Because no known survivors lived to tell the story, the details surrounding the sinking of Edsall remained largely a mystery for more than a half century. Finally, after historians compiled bits and pieces of information from various allied sources over the years, Japanese records and eyewitnesses on the Chikuma recently became available. The new information points to a short but epic battle involving the aging Edsall and one of the world's strongest naval forces of its day.

After Edsall reversed her course on 01 Mar 1942 and steamed away from Java, she stumbled upon Admiral Nagumo's battle force, Kido Butai, that had been prowling the Indian Ocean in search of enemy shipping. Unfortunately, Edsall was spotted first. She was misidentified as a light cruiser of the Marblehead class. IJN battleships Hiei and Kirishima and heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma were detached from the battle force to attack Edsall with surface gunfire.

The old four-stacker began evasive maneuvers frustrating the Japanese for the next hour and half. However, because of the damage done previously to one of her propeller shafts, Edsall was unable to make top speed or maneuver fully. At one point Edsall turned and launched her torpedoes narrowly missing Chikuma. The Japanese fired some 1400 rounds resulting in only one or two direct hits. The frustrated Admiral Nagumo called upon his carriers to finish off the Edsall. She was attacked by dive-bombers from two Japanese carriers (Kaga, Soryu,) and possibly a third (Hiryu) before succumbing to this devastating attack. The Edsall went down at 1900 hours, 01 Mar 1942, 430 miles south of Java.

Japanese eyewitnesses confirm that at least eight Edsall crewman from a large number of survivors were fished out of the water and brought on board the Chikuma. The rest of the survivors were left to their fate in the water. Chikuma and the rest of the battle force arrived at Staring Bay anchorage, Celebes on 11 Mar 1942. Three dozen POWs, 8 or more from the Edsall and the remainder from a Dutch ship, were turned over to the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces based at Kendari where they were executed on 24 Mar 1942 near Kendari II airfield.

After WWII ended, an Allied War Crimes Tribunal was convened in Java. During the course of the Tribunal's investigations, an eyewitness to Japanese executions was discovered and interviewed. He testified that he witnessed the execution by the Japanese of a number of POWs in 1942. He led investigators to the Japanese Execution Grounds mass grave, Kendari II, Celebes, N.E.I. Five sets of remains in a group of about 10 were later identified from ID tags as USS Edsall crewmen. The other five were unknown but were possibly US Army Air force personnel on board Edsall from the Langley. A sixth set of remains were found in another burying ground on Celebes. They were identified by an ID tag as those of Fireman Second Class (F2) Loren Stanford Myers, a crewman from the Edsall.

All of these remains were disinterred and reburied in the US Military Cemetery, Barrackpore, India on 12 Nov 1946. After three years, their remains were disinterred again and reburied in a mass grave at the National cemetery at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, MO on 20 Dec 1949. The remains of F2 Myers were reinterred according to immediate family wishes in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, HI on 31 Mar 1950. With the discovery of these remains, their presumed date of death was amended to 02 Mar 1942.


U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012, MM2 J.R. Cameron, USN, died 2 Mar 1942 overseas. Remains returned from overseas WWII. Group burial with MM1 Horace W. Andrus, F1c Sydney Griffith Amory, MM3c Larry Vandiver, and F1c Donald F. Watters at Jefferson Barracks. MO on 20 Dec 1949.


SC3 Mills was (posthumously) awarded the Purple Heart, American Defense Medal with Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Fleet Clasp and three bronze stars (one bronze star in lieu of Clasp), Philippine Defense Medal with clasp, and WWII Victory Medal. SC3 Mills was eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon.


A commemoration in honor of SC3 Mills’ service from President Harry S. Truman reads:

In Grateful Memory of Keith LeRoy Mills, Who Died In The Service Of His Country At Sea, Asiatic Area, attached U.S.S. Edsall, 25 November 1945 (presumed). He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives – in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.


Harry Truman

President of the United States of America


On Thursday, 22 Feb 1942, Mrs Alice M. Mills was presented the four-star pin of the Emblem of Honor Association of New York for having four sons in the armed forces of the United States. The pin was presented to her by the Mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska at her home among her neighbors and friends. About 35 people were packed in the house to witness the ceremony. Exactly a month later she received the dreaded telegram notifying her that one of her sons was missing in action. Later that year on 29 Oct 1942, Mrs Mills was honored in the chambers of the Mayor, Richard O. Johnson, when he presented the mother of five sons who entered the service of their country, a 5-star medal of honor. The medal was presented in the presence of a number of representatives of local Army and Navy Mother's clubs. The mayor stressed appreciation of a mother who had gone to this limit in sacrifice.

Sept 1945

Among the last official acts of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson prior to his resigning from office was writing a letter to Mrs Alice Mills of Lincoln, NE expressing his gratitude for the service rendered by her five sons, three of whom were in the Army and two in the navy. The letter, which was typed on U.S. war office stationary, dated 22 Aug and signed by the Secretary of War himself, reads:

"The adjutant general recently informed me that you are the mother of five sons, all in the service of their country. This represents so important a contribution to the nation that I hope you will permit me to express my personal feeling of gratitude to you. I have asked to see the names of your sons and I note that Floyd E. Mills, Lloyd E. Mills and Robert F. Mills are on the rolls of the army; Keith L. Mills and Kenneth R. Mills of the navy. I sympathize in your anxiety for Keith who has been reported missing in action in the southwest Pacific area. You may rest assured that the navy department will inform you immediately when news of him is received, and I believe you will be comforted by the knowledge that many men reported missing, often for long periods, are later found to be safe and well.

I am sure that there is comfort, too, and pride in the knowledge that all these fine young men performed a full share in the recent struggle against our enemies. The nation's greatest thanks go forth to such mothers as you who did not hesitate to recognize that the country's need had to be placed before all else. I share your prayers that all your boys may be restored safely to you within the near future."

Very sincerely yours,

// Henry L. Stimson//


Bio#318 composed by Gerry Lawton (G47, GML470)

Find A Grave memorial page# 229508673

Honoree ID: 152277   Created by: MHOH




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