Harry Austin Kiehl was born June 23, 1916, in Portland, Oregon, to Clyde and Mabel Chamberlain Hyde Kiehl. He had an older half-sister, Nadine, born to Mabel during her first marriage. His mother passed away when Harry was a very young boy. He and his sister lived with their maternal grandparents until his dad was able to sort things out, find work, and bring them to Seattle.
Before the days of daycare, Harry’s sister (5 years older) helped raise him and maintained their home until she left home immediately after high school. After a couple of years of minimal parenting, Harry basically ran away from home when he was about17, having dropped out of Garfield High School. Harry served in the Civilian Conservation Corps for about a year, and then attended Benson Tech in Portland to become a machinist. He also traveled for a while, working for a company that laid him off, stranding him in Milwaukee. People were kind to him, and eventually he was able to work his way home. His dad had remarried while he was gone.
Being a Journeyman machinist, with all the skills that entailed, including welding, shaped his working life particularly during the war years. Harry was valuable as a civilian worker. It is interesting to note that before he enlisted, Harry worked in California for Lockheed, building the same type of airplane he eventually flew in and maintained in the Navy.
Harry enlisted in the Navy Air Corps (this was before the formation of the United States Air Force) in the fall of 1942. Boot camp was at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, followed by a week of leave at home. Schools he attended included Aviation Mechanic School at Navy Pier, Chicago; a stint at Lake City, Florida, interrupted by a stay at Jacksonville Hospital (kidney stone); Aerial Gunnery Schools at Boca Chica, Florida. There were other schools at other bases in Florida as well. There was a week’s leave before assignment to NAS Whidbey Island, where his squadron, VPB 151, formed up. After several months, the squadron flew to California for transport by aircraft carrier to Hawaii, although the planes were not carrier-based.
Also, before he enlisted, when he was back in Seattle, Harry met Destel “Dusty” King on a blind date, when she was separated from her first husband. She followed him to Chicago to continue their romance. When Harry told her not to follow him to Florida because of an acute housing shortage, she returned to work in Seattle. When Harry was stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, he received permission from his commanding officer to marry Destel. He was sent to San Francisco about two weeks after their wedding, and then on to the Pacific Theater.
Harry’s active service was as crew chief for a Vega Ventura, “the hottest, fastest, medium size land-based patrol bomber,” in his words. He had the responsibility for the plane while it was on the ground, directing its repair and maintenance. On missions, Harry manned a large caliber free (unmounted) machine gun as well as taking bombing-run photos. He and the rest of the squadron spent the war island-hopping in the Marianas Islands in the Central Pacific. Tinian was one of their longest bivouacs. Off Johnson Island and Tarawa their main job was convoy coverage, though they never spotted a submarine. On Tinian their primary assignments were to fly for hours to bomb Japanese airfields on other strategic islands. They sometimes took hits from antiaircraft fire, although no-one in his crew was injured. Other places Harry visited during the war were Eniwetok, Iwo Jima, Guam, and others he couldn’t remember without a map.
While Harry was overseas, his sister Nadine passed away.
After completion of his Navy service, Harry returned to Seattle and to Destel. He didn’t take advantage of the GI Bill, already having a trade, but we think he would have been an excellent engineer. He owned his own auto repair shop for a while, but was too trusting of his customers. Financial considerations forced him to close down.
Harry and Destel waited until after the war to have children. They were by their own estimate “pretty wild” in their younger days, but they settled down to create a stable home for their family. Eventually they had three daughters: Janis, Phyllis, and Rhonda. (Rhonda passed away as a young teenager, and that was one of the saddest occurrences in Harry and Destel’s lives.) Picnics, regular church attendance, Sunday drives, and car-and-tent camping were a big part of the family’s life. For adult socializing, square dancing was fun for Harry and Destel in the 50′s and 60′s, and they joined the Greater Seattle Organ Guild when electronic organs were popular. Harry was Secretary-Treasurer for them for nine years. Later, trailer camping and other travels gave Harry and Destel much joy. They made friends all over the country, and some in New Zealand too. Harry estimated putting several hundred thousand miles on three different trailers and several tow vehicles.
Harry worked in varied settings for many companies over the years, including marine and aviation industries. At various times he was a member of the Operating Engineers union, and/or the Machinists union. Harry learned about hydraulics and used that knowledge in several jobs. He knew a lot of other things as well, having gained his electrician’s license and taught himself a lot about electronics. He made some Heathkit voltmeters and such, and fixed our black and white TVs. Of course, He also fixed anything and everything else in the house and the driveway.
Probably as part of his lifelong love of anything mechanical, Harry loved classic American cars. He joined the Seattle chapter of the Chrysler Car Club and attended meetings and participated in regional meets almost until the end of his life. He also loved anything powered by steam, especially the Stanley Steamer cars.
After a small stroke in 2004, Harry began to slow down. Eventually, he stopped traveling, and over recent months he began to decline. At age 95 he had outlived most of his peers and we used to laugh with him that his body’s warranty had expired. With the help of caregivers, Harry remained at home. On Friday, June 15, 2012, Harry quietly slipped away from this life.
The family wish to thank the people of Gentiva Home Health, Visiting Angels, and Providence Hospice of Seattle; and in particular Edrisu Sanyang, Bogidrau Rabuku, and Sunia Raitana. We are grateful, too, to the many friends, relations, and neighbors who have shown much kindness and affection to Harry over the years.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to your favorite charity, or the following:
Thirteenth Church of Christ, Scientist
PO Box 25434
Seattle, WA 98165
The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way S.
Seattle, WA 98108-4097
A memorial celebration is to be held 2 p.m. Saturday, July 7 at Haller Lake Community Club, 12579 Densmore Avenue N., Seattle, WA 98133.