Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee Jr.

TALKING TO MYSELF 11 November 2013   Day 11 of Thanks - Giving:  Veterans Day always fills me with mixed emotions. It reminds me of the toll war takes on the body and psyche of those asked to fight, the scars it leaves on the landscape, buildings gone, treasures and records plundered. I don't like war, not even movies about war. And yet I am in awe of what veterans have done, and I am grateful, so grateful, that my American life has been defended time and again from the whims of tyrants and anarchists. In the past, I have shared stories in this space about the veterans in my family and community who were little known outside our circles, enlisted men like my Great-Uncles Murphy Hudson and Ditzler Hudson who nearly died in WWI, Uncle Murf from mustard gas, Uncle Dick from the 1918 influenza epidemic. And then there was our neighbor, the house painter Ernest Carroll, who returned from the Fields of Flanders convinced he'd taken a train ride through Hell. I was born in the waning months of WWII, and but often feel as though I lived through it because it so shaped the lives of my parents' generation. My father, my Uncle Louis, and too many other neighbors to name served in that horrendous war.  A fellow who grew up a mile or so from our farm was a prisoner of war in  the Korean Conflict, and as a young child, I was fascinated by the parade and hero's welcome he received when he returned home to Owen County. My high school classmate, William Lee Juett, died in Viet Nam, the controversial war that divided my generation and the country.  A sweet boy named Chris, who once came courting one of our daughters, lost a leg in the Iraq War. A relative may soon be deployed to Afghanistan. Nearly everyone knows someone personally who has served or is serving, and we pause today to thank them all. 


On this Veterans Day, however, I want to talk about Vice Admiral Willis Augustus Lee Jr., aka as "Mose" or "Ching" Lee, the highest ranking Kentuckian in the Navy during WWII. He was born at Natlee, the speck on the map where I grew up, and proves my father's point that it is indeed the crossroads of the world because you can start from there and go anywhere. "Mose" Lee led a remarkable life. After graduating from tiny Owenton High School, he attended the U. S. Naval Academy, in itself a remarkable achievement. A country boy who grew up hunting, he became part of the Naval Academy's award winning shooting team during his time there between 1904 - 1908, and later participated on Navy's Rifle team.  While records are inconsistent on medals he may have personally won, all agree that he participated in the 1920 Olympic Games  on the U. S. Rifle team that won five gold metals.  See here: 


His military achievements in WWI and WWII are legion, but he is perhaps best remembered by historians as the "hero of Gaudalcanal." In  November, 1942, the task force under his command defeated a much more powerful, larger Japanese force in a decisive victory in the Pacific theater, much needed at that early point in the war. An intellectual man, he was considered one of the Navy's premier experts on radar and its use. His service earned the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Medal, and a gold star (which some sources say was in lieu of a second DSM.) Vice Admiral Lee, however, did not live to see the official end of the war. He died of a heart attack on 25 August, 1945, three days before the Allied Powers occupied Japan and nine days before Japan's official surrender ceremony. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with honors. The destroyer, Willis A. Lee,  was launched in 1952. For more information about Lee see here:  http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-l/wa-lee.htm http://w...

and  here: http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/w9/willis_a_lee.htm  

and  here: http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/walee.htm and here: http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/L/e/Lee_Willis.htm

©Georgia Green Stamper