Hi Reddit! I’m a 96 year old veteran of WW2, architect, engineer, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. A few bullet points of my life and career:

  • served on the USS Raymond as lead fire control man and fought in many significant battles in the Pacific theater, namely the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
  • Graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with BS in Architectural Engineering
  • A few years after starting my own architecture firm in Vincennes, Indiana I accepted positions working in Saudi Arabia for construction of a college and hospital
  • Later worked with the Iranian Navy building 4 navy bases on the Caspian Sea
  • Escaped Iran just as the revolution to overthrow the Shah was beginning
  • Worked with the Libyan government to build New Brega
  • While working for Marriott in the US significant projects include Marriott World Center in Orlando, Marriott Times Square, and began Marriott’s program into building Life Care Communities
  • Shortly after retirement, joined the State of Baltimore construction team and headed the international competition to choose the sculptor of the Thurgood Marshall monument placed on capitol grounds.
  • Enjoy driving my 6th Corvette after I got hooked on them with my first split-window Stingray back in 1963.

My name is Vern Kimmell. Ask me anything!

My 27 year old grandson is here transcribing my answers. Proof.

Comments: 322 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

texasgrandson123366 karma

What did you do to pass the time on the ship in WW2? Was there time for anything lighthearted or was it work 24/7?

VernKimmell523 karma

Laughs

There was little free time. Our task force was an offensive unit and our free time was occupied mostly by preparation for the next action. What free time was available for the most part the crew would play cards, maybe have a chance to write a letter home, and just shoot the breeze.

From these comments you can assume there was little free time. My task force participated in five invasions and was task force 77.4.3 at the Battle off Samar. Our unit was known as Taffey III.

This invasion was beyond the range of the airforce's land-based airplanes and the navy, through the use of our aircraft carriers, provided air cover for the protection of the land forces during the invasion. In addition, we had surface action with units of the Japanese Navy to prevent them from having access to the invasion beaches and our soldiers.

Aj_Caramba47 karma

Sorry for probably stupid question, but a while ago I read about fight of Taffy 3 with Japanese navy (The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors). Is it the same unit you mentioned?

fatruff378 karma

That is the Taffy 3 he mentions. His ship he mentions above is DE-341 the USS Raymond. His ship was a destroyer escort and was part of the actions. It landed some hits on a cruiser and also launched torpedo at the Japanese force. The Raymond was also targeted by the Yamato's secondary batteries at some point in the fight but from what I have read was not hit.

I only respond since I would suspect Vern is done with the AMA. If he has anything to add or correct me on feel free!

VernKimmell2 karma

Yep, that's all right.

cruiserflyer4 karma

Taffy 3!!?? The battle off Samar! OMG!! This is so incredible. And you were fire control! Front row seat for the entire action. Question; Why hasn't a movie been made about this action yet? I've been reading about this since I was 12 years old in the 80s.

VernKimmell2 karma

A lot of people are asking that question actually. Supposedly there has been a script written, but they're searching for funding. I heard about it here or there maybe at one ship reunion.

starliz266 karma

You have seen a lot of changes in your 96 years across many countries. What has been your favorite innovation? Not necessarily the best or most amazing, but your favorite.

VernKimmell487 karma

Heaven's sakes. What's an innovation? Uhh

There's been so many changes! I think it would have to be...

See one problem we had being overseas and plans being drawn elsewhere, if there was a change in plans we had to put a guy on an airplane with a roll of drawings and send him there. Now, all you have to do is punch a key on a computer and it goes over there.

I think it would have to be the internet and the ability to transfer information. For all of those projects, for every one of them the design drawings, the conceptual drawings were prepared in the US. In most cases, the development of construction drawings was done by an architectural engineering firm in Europe. We had a firm in Italy, one in Germany, and one in Greece. And all these documents that were used in construction were made out of the country, so any time the job changed the work was done in a foreign country the person had to hand-deliver drawings.

texasgrandson123145 karma

Do you have a favorite project from your days as an architect? If so, what made it particularly memorable for you?

VernKimmell383 karma

Definitely the monument to Thurgood Marshall. I'm trying to think of how to word the "why" though...

Well... He was the first black justice on the Supreme Court. He was very active in equal rights programs, especially the Supreme Court's overturning of "separate but equal" education which was a culmination of his work prior to being appointed to the Supreme Court.

Here in St. Louis there was the Dred Scott case and it was chaired by Judge Taney and Judge Taney was a resident of Baltimore, MD and so was Thurgood Marshall. The state of Maryland had recognized Taney's accomplishments and the African American community disfavored the attention given to Taney because of the Dred Scott decision. And it was a long process before recognition was given to Thurgood Marshall by approving the funds to build the monument to him.

HepatitisShmepatitis132 karma

Do you feel superior to people who have already lost their wits by age 77? Or is it more of a “there but for the grace of God” type of situation?

VernKimmell356 karma

Laughs

Hell, I don't feel superior to anyone. I advocate taking life serious, but see the humor in everything.

fourgiantschi131 karma

What would you tell your younger self?

VernKimmell336 karma

I guess this question almost gets at "what would you do differently if you could talk to your younger self?"

I guess it almost sounds conceited to say that I wouldn't change a thing.

texasgrandson123110 karma

Whose leadership did you admire serving in the war? Whether it was at the time or now looking back. Thanks!

VernKimmell278 karma

Admiral Nimitz in the Navy and General Patton in the Army.

Nimitz because he took the disaster of the attack at Pearl Harbor and developed and fought the Japanese ending up in our victory.

Patton had a drive for victory that he would absolutely never accept defeat.

stevoooe85 karma

So out of all the corvettes you’ve owned, which one has been your favourite? and what’s your thoughts of it going mid-engined?

VernKimmell3 karma

My favorite is the C7. Everything about it. Of all the cars I've had including a Mercedes and the other US manufactured cars, the C7 is the best automobile I've owned. The workmanship, the quality, the fit of the body panels, the sound of the engine. It's just a winner, as far as I'm concerned.

I like the mid-engine. But my hang up is I think the purchasers of the car during the first year's run are really the ones who are testing the machine and if there's any blip here or there it'll be fixed. So I never buy the first year's run.

Felipe_AP79 karma

which particular thought kept you going forward during the hardest moments of your fights? what would you advice to someone with 23 years old?

VernKimmell175 karma

Hmm.

When in action, your objective is both defense and aggression. An activity in each is such that you have thoughts for little else. If you're aiming at a target, your one thought is to get it. And at the same time, being prepared for the next one. And you can't be thinking about last night's date or anything else. Your thoughts have to be zero'd in on what you're doing because if your mind wanders, your enemies are going to take advantage of it.

Concerning the future and regardless of your aims and ambitions, your principle activity must be study and education. Education in your chosen endeavor is always good because nobody can take it away from you. I feel that education is the answer to almost anything.

The military also looks favorably on education too. The Kimmell family's first doctor after WW2 was a guy that got all of his training and education through the army and he had the same qualifications and certifications that any civilian doctor would have. In my case, every sailor is given a battery of tests and the navy determines what his qualifications are -- how smart he is, his IQ and so forth. I went to two schools before I ever went to sea. Specialty schools to study fire control equipment -- all electrical type stuff. The big guns were controlled by electric hydraulic systems -- that's what moves them and so forth. The computers and the like were all handled by the fire controlman. It's one of the things that if you get this kind of training in the navy, you can go into almost any electronic-type work after the navy.

My brother Earl went to two universities studying electrical engineering and became an instructor in aviation radar.

doctorwhoisathing71 karma

opinions on biden and trump ?

VernKimmell634 karma

The two names shouldn't be spoken in the same breath. Mr. Trump, I wish him well, but he was never qualified to be president of the United States.

And really for that matter, I don't think Joe Biden is really the right man for the job right now either. We need a younger man with imagination and fire and passion for the job. If you ask me who would that be, I don't know right now. I just have to know that Joe will surround himself with the right team.

doctorwhoisathing19 karma

is that bernie sanders ?

VernKimmell275 karma

Maybe, but the stuff he's been preaching for years is what's being adopted now. Bernie has the skills necessary, however we must remember that there's no "I" in team. I think even more important than the one single person running for president is the people they appoint to their cabinet and the people on their team. He needs a team.

thorium4350 karma

What was working in Libya like?

In the times you spent in Muslim countries, were you ever single and if so what was the nightlife like?

VernKimmell161 karma

I guess as a foreigner, you must consider yourself a guest in the country in which you're working. You have to live by and respect their rules and regulations without sacrificing your freedom. I was able to do this without any problems. Things like their holy day being a different day of the week than your own, it isn't always acceptable that people of Christian faith worship in public there. These things can be done but you must be thoughtful and adapt on how to do it.

The construction in Libya was a challenge because of language difficulties and scarcity of materials and skill of the workforce there. There are solutions to all these issues and they can be overcome. Solving these problems is what makes it interesting in working in a foreign country.

I was never single during the period of my career when I worked in the Middle East. Nightlife in Muslim countries varies depending upon the country and how strict they follow their religious beliefs. Generally speaking, in most countries, nightlife is negligible. Private clubs are available. For the most part, in my situation, fraternization was not advisable for political reasons.

Social relationships were questionable because you never knew the background of the person, who their friends were -- what they believed and so forth.

artofcannabis41 karma

Given all that is happening in our world, it's obvious that history repeats itself. What do you think about what is happening and how can we solve it together now that we live in a digital age? Thank you for your service – I am a filmmaker as well as photographer (my username is because I actually photograph cannabis full time for a living), and I have done documentaries and I wish that I could sit and interview you! I bet you have so much knowledge to share with the world.

VernKimmell128 karma

You know what I think about is just pretty much a canned answer.

We have to regain our respect in the world, re-establish relationships with our allies, and, by fully understanding the events of history, plan accordingly for the development and maintenance of our weapons systems. We have to establish skilled R&D teams to satisfy our defensive needs.

graspingwind15 karma

You grew up in some pretty uncertain and scary times (through a lot of events that take up most of our history classes....) How did you make it through the Great Depression, WW11, the cold War etc. without losing hope?

The world today feels like its spinning out of control and only getting worse, but looking back, your years growing up had some major world crises too... so I guess I'm wondering if it felt like the world was ending, how you got through, any advice for this 22 yr old...

VernKimmell3 karma

Well I was a baby during lots of that. I was in kindergarten during the depression. We didn't really realize it was so bad because everyone was in the same boat. We always found something to play with, though it may have been a tin can or something we found around.

Living was tough because money was scarce. Money being scarce it was handy to have a pear tree in the yard because -- well like now if you want a snack you go get a bag of potato ships and a soda or whatever, but back then if we got hungry we'd go out back and get a pear off the tree and that was our snacks. Since pears were a main item on my diet and since now I'm old enough to make choices, I'll always pass up pears. They're still tasty and that kind of thing, but I have a choice and I exercise it and I get me a ripe peach.

In elementary school years, the main item of dress for boys at least seemed to be blue jeans or bib overalls. I was so tired of that attire that once I was in the position where I, as a young adult, I could purchase my own clothes, at that point in time, I scratched blue jeans or denim off my to-do list. So, to this day, I've never worn blue jeans. Though in the navy, we did wear dungarees. But I wasn't satisfied with just the straight-leg military issue dungarees, so I'd take them to the tailor and make them into bell-bottoms. So even then at that time, I never thought high of blue jeans. Back in the periods of hard times during the depression, it was the poor kids that wore the blue jeans.

As far as the political atmosphere in later years and what conditions I experienced like political unrest on a world-scale, I've always been optimistic. I knew my from military experience, that if you worked as a team and had good equipment you can pretty much turn back your foe. And while these activities ran on, revolutions and wars and whatnot, I was concerned and I kept current as to what was happening and I had learned to cope with that. In all honesty, had it been necessary I would've put my uniform on again, but I had already made my commitment to spend the rest of my life doing constructive things rather than destructive like in the war.

I did have one experience in the field where a revolution was taking place because I had been building in the area in Iran when the Shah was overthrown. I had to get my team out of the area, which we just managed to do. But then the world went on and so did we.

hharris22412 karma

Thank you for your service. Do you feel like you’ve had enough time? I’m only 36 but time already feels like sand running through my fingers and I can’t seem to grasp enough.

VernKimmell3 karma

Well you know in that regard, I'm 96 but I feel like I'm 39. So I hope there's still some more time for me. Life is interesting and there's more projects that I'd like to do because my mind is still active, I still have a good imagination, and I still know what looks good and what looks bad architecturally -- I don't have to go out and buy a bunch of ivy to cover up what I've done so nobody has to see it.

I hope there's lots more sand in the hourglass, so to speak.

Now, as in that past, I've always been very concerned about my diet, how I spend my time. It's not that I've been fanatical about it -- it's just that it dawned on me that the Lord gives us a good body at birth and it's up to us to take care of it. So I've always been concerned with diet, exercise, and the like. And it's made me what I am now, which I guess is why I feel 39.

So I hope that whatever it is you do, I hope you stop and think about food, what you drink, exercise. All those things in moderation is what it takes -- you don't have to go crazy and become an olympic star or anything like that. You can have a good productive life just by taking care of your body with healthy living.

amberkelly7 karma

Who’s your favorite president?

VernKimmell3 karma

Oh heaven's sakes.

Huh.

I think as far as favorite president, I'd have to cast my bet with John Kennedy. Because being a navy man, we have to stand together. I was on a destroyer, he was on a PT boat. He was in the Guadalcanal, I was in the area too later on. He died too young -- we were never able to get a true measure of his contributions to the country. John Kennedy actually chose to serve. Unlike some others who may have had a bone spur or something of the like...

caseyrobinson26 karma

What is your normal diet like? How do you stay healthy?

VernKimmell2 karma

Oh gracious sakes.

Laughs

My diet... To a large degree, I've eliminated red meat. I know I'm not a rabbit, but I eat a lot of vegetables. I try to get regular rest. As far as the content of the food I eat, for the most part it's heavy on the vegetable side. Occasionally I'll have me a martini or a bloody mary or two. Because you know with your solid food you have to have some liquid ;).

Now getting back to the serious issues... I have been blessed with good genetics and I have no serious medical problems. The blood pressure and cholesterol, all those things, are as they should be and I have increased my exercise routine. At this point in time, I just try and take care of it and just live correctly as far as food intake and everyday activities. I don't really TRY to do anything, like I'm not going to get up and play touch football. In order to maintain proper exercise, I do have a trainer who comes to my home 3x a week and I don't know that I'm being conditioned for a marathon or anything, but I think I'd rather spectate than participate there.

ImabossSk5 karma

How do you feel about the current generation? I see news that many veterans dislike how the flag+anthem is treated, aswell as how our age acts/goes about our social life. Tiktok especially.

VernKimmell2 karma

I don't even know that much about TikTok but...

I believe that the younger generation will respond as necessary whatever the conditions are, I believe they'll come forward. I believe the future is with them. What I've experienced recently as far as the political activities here in the country, it seems like in 90% of the cases it's the younger generations trying to get us back on the right track. It seems there are many issues that the older generations are tolerating or not having the guts to stand up and say "no".

So I have all the faith in the world in the young folks. I know their entertainment is a little different than what I've experienced, but every generation thinks that way about the youngers. If we give the young people a chance, we'll be headed in the right direction.

Benes34605 karma

Given all the crazy things you have seen happen throughout your life, what do you think is our country’s biggest challenge going forward?

Also, what’s your favorite WW2-related movie (one that strikes you as the most accurate)?

VernKimmell3 karma

Because of the current conditions and what this country has endured the last 3 years, our major task is to re-establish our position in the world and try to regain the friends that have been lost or at least the friendships that have become tainted. So our biggest challenge is just taking the necessary steps to re-establish our position and try to regain the confidence of our neighbors.

Then on the work that our country and other countries have to do is to deal with the issues of climate change. Here we need to get right with race relations. We have many many problems that we can cure, if we only have the right team in place that's so motivated to do it. I think these are solvable problems and these issues are just a few of the major ones, but there is no problem that if we as a country cannot solve. I think we have the ambition and the ability to push forward and resolve them. It's not going to happen overnight, but we have to dedicate ourselves to it and work at it. I contend we can deal with these issues and that we can resolve and it's based on what I've already experienced. As a country, we fought two wars -- one in Europe and one in the Pacific -- at the same time. Not only that, we as a country provided all our allies with the materials to make war against our enemies. We fed our people, we made the materials, and united with our allies we won the war. If we can do that, we can do many many things. We've proven that when we sent a man to the moon. The space program is amazing all that it's accomplished. What's on the planning table now is amazing, going to outer space, mars, and the like. I firmly believe that all we have to do is review our history and apply the same initiatives to these current problems, then success will be ours and all the countries of the world will be much better for all of it.

As far as the army movies are concerned, I like Patton. I've always been a champion of his and I think that movie was well done, factual. Hollywood didn't play too many games trying to turn it into fiction. There are several Navy pictures. One that represents the destroyers in the submarine warfare is Enemy Down Below, I think. But there's a long list of exceptional war movies. In large part I think it was because I think 5 or so of lots of major motion picture directors were involved in the battles. While it's never possible to show the true horrors of war on film, you can see that good attempts are made to show facts without glamorizing it.

If we want to think about war movies from an entertainment standpoint, there's Kelly's Heroes and then of course there was Mister Roberts. The Midway film was good. I liked Saving Private Ryan.

kingbovril4 karma

Hi Vern, thanks for the AMA. I was wondering if maybe you knew my grandfather, Jerry Woods? He was a boatswain in the Navy and was supposed to be on the Oklahoma when it was bombed, but he was on leave visiting my grandmother. He was also stationed in the Pacific after the attack, and reading his diary his handwriting gets shakier the farther into the war it gets. Even if you never met him, I thank you for your service. I wish I could have met him before he passed in ‘86

VernKimmell2 karma

I would like to have met him, too. But I never had that opportunity. One source of information related to your granddad, you may be able to obtain through the USS Oklahoma reunion group. Just about all ships have such an organization, but there should be information about the Oklahoma and its crew members.

goonie72 karma

At any point during the war did you fear that the axis powers would win? And hitlers generalplan ost would be implemented. Also how aware was the common soldier of the large scale "liquidation" of the jews, poles, slave etc.?

VernKimmell2 karma

The war was worldwide and a serviceman could be in one area and not be aware of what was going on on the other side of the world. In my situation, I was in the navy and we were fighting a pacific war. So the only thing we knew were the things that we would get in a little newspaper that we would pin around the ship. And the source of that information was from our radio operator. So I didn't have knowledge of what was going on as far as Hitler, Patton, and the war in Europe. I didn't know until after the war about the concentration camps and the ill that the Jewish population had suffered.

It wasn't until I was discharged back in the US and started reading up on the history that I'd missed that I found out what had happened in Europe. Then I became aware of the concentration camps, slave labor, Holocaust, rocket projectile attacks on Europe, and the so forth. Because I was in the part of the world were the atomic bomb was dropped.

DaintyElephant2 karma

What was Iran like before the revolution vs after?

VernKimmell2 karma

I was in Iran prior to the revolution. Prior to the revolution, I feel it's a good country. Good people and so on. And so often happens, the wrong people get in command and lead you down a wrong road. The Shah had his problems and his people rebelled. Rulers who develop an oppressive atmosphere for the people, they don't have a fair and reasonable distribution of the country's assets and alike, trouble is ahead. And it was for the Shah. And my team and I were able to get out of the country just as the revolution was happening. I haven't been back since, but it's a good country and good people. In civilian life back in the US, I've had several architectural teams with several Iranian architects on it. My relationship with the Iranian people is great.

Luckyuser432 karma

Was there ever a point where you really hated your enemy? Did you reconsider your views on them and change? If so, what made you change?

VernKimmell2 karma

I have some difficulty answering that because never in my life have I hated anything. I went to war because I felt it was my responsibility that we had to defend our country, defend our families in the like. I shot at him because he shot at me. Luckily for me, I was a better shot than he was. My war in the pacific was against the Japanese and I didn't hate them. They were coming after us we had to defend ourselves. The object is to win and so, in that vein, that's why I performed firing those guns and the like. I guess you'd say I was firing at an enemy I didn't hate. I sure didn't approve of his actions and so on and the guys on my ship had the same attitude.

Course there wasn't much we could do to a kamikaze airplane because his one motive was to destroy us and himself with us.

realbassist1 karma

How did you feel when you first heard about the attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

VernKimmell2 karma

The reaction was one really of satisfaction. Because you have to remember: we had those kamikazes that were deliberately flying their airplanes into our ships and killing us. We didn't have many favorable feelings towards the Japanese and we had been notified that we were part of the invasion force going into Japan. We all wanted to get it over with and go home.

Our first reaction was one of thankfulness that it had happened. Then later in life we had a chance to think the whole thing through about the number of people that had been killed. At the same time, we were betting men that we would get out and that we would get to go home.

jbaize1 karma

Hey I go to school in Vincennes! Small world. Are you originally from Indiana?

VernKimmell2 karma

Yes! I was born in Vincennes, Indiana June 6 1924!

After the war, I went to Vincennes University then transferred to Washington University in St. Louis.

I was associate architect on the first permanent building built on the new campus there at VU. At that time, it was the student union building but it's become something else now, not sure what.

SuperKickClyde1 karma

What do you like on a pizza?

VernKimmell2 karma

I like meat pizzas. Italian sausage, pepperoni. I like green peppers. I guess the pizza I like is the one that the local pizzamaker calls Farouk. Bobe's pizzeria in Vincennes. Some people would call that supreme. It's just got all the meat and everything on it.

WookieSocks1 karma

What’s your favourite childhood memory?

VernKimmell2 karma

You know I don't think I have one...

My favorite childhood memory were the frequent visits I had with my grandfather. He was a good storyteller and as a little kid I ate up every word.