Reinhardt John Keppler was born in Ralston, Washington, on 22 January 1918. He enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduating from high school, in 1936, and, after leaving for a brief period, rejoined on 25 April 1940. He was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38) and was promoted to Petty Officer First class in October of 1941. He was at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack and subsequently took part in some of the war’s earliest engagements.
In the fall of the following year, Keppler performed the actions for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation describes what happened:
“For extraordinary heroism and distinguished courage above and beyond the call of duty while serving aboard the U.S.S. San Francisco during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands, 12–November 13, 1942. When a hostile torpedo plane, during a daylight air raid, crashed on the after machine-gun platform, KEPPLER promptly assisted in the removal of the dead and, by his capable supervision of the wounded, undoubtedly helped save the lives of several shipmates who otherwise might have perished. That night, when the hangar was set afire during the great battle off Savo Island, he bravely led a hose into the starboard side of the stricken area and there, without assistance and despite frequent hits from terrific enemy bombardment, eventually brought the fire under control. Later, although mortally wounded, he labored valiantly in the midst of bursting shells, persistently directing fire-fighting operations and administrating to wounded personnel until he finally collapsed from loss of blood, aged 24. His great personal valor, maintained with utter disregard of personal safety, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
(There is some confusion about Keppler’s actual date of death. His tombstone in Golden Gate National Cemetery records it as 15 November, although there is strong evidence that he died of blood loss shortly after collapsing, as described in his citation, on 13 November.)
USS KEPPLER (DD-765), in active service from 1947-1972, was named in Keppler’s honor.