S1c Howard Helgi Kukuk

Unknown Sailor

S1c Howard Helgi Kukuk

Howard Helgi Kukuk enlisted in the Navy at the suggestion of a buddy who boarded at his home in Cavalier in northeast North Dakota.

The friend, Charles Starling Triggs, had learned carpentry in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal Depression-era jobs program in which Mr. Kukuk also served. After Triggs hit the two-year limit for CCC work in Minnesota, he moved to North Dakota and paid $7 a week — food, room, and laundry — to live with the Kukuk family.

Mr. Triggs was about three years older than Mr. Kukuk and they became friends. And as he recalled years later, he nearly married one of Mr. Kukuk’s sisters.

Then, “our work began to slack off,” Mr. Triggs said in a 1993 interview with the Anoka County (Minnesota) Historical Society. So he suggested they join the Navy even though “I’d never seen a ship or a sailor in my life.”

They went together to the recruitment office on Nov. 27, 1940. Mr. Kukuk left for training a few weeks ahead of his friend. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Arizona and was a seaman first class on the battleship when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Mr. Triggs was assigned to the U.S.S. Wright, a seaplane tender. It was headed back to Pearl Harbor from Wake Island when the Japanese attacked. Mr. Triggs survived the war and served 27 years in the military.

Mr. Kukuk was born in Pembina County, North Dakota 10 miles southeast of Cavalier on June 18, 1921 according to the Defense Department. That year is consistent with his age in the 1930 and 1940 Census, and with his obituary in the local newspaper. However, a marker at the Cavalier Cemetery lists his birth year as 1925. His parents are buried there.

He completed 8th grade in schools in the Cavalier area and was a member of its Presbyterian church.

His father, Elmer, and mother, Thurda, were born in North Dakota, but their families were from Iceland. Elmer was a farmer and then owned a shoe repair shop in Cavalier, population 1,105, about 20 miles from the Canadian border.  He suffered severe arthritis, Mr. Triggs said.

The Depression must have been hard on the family. The 1940 Census said Elmer, the only employed person in the household of seven, worked 52 weeks the previous year and made no money from the shop, although he reported another unnamed source of income.


Sources: Anoka (Minnesota) Historical Society, Oral Collection, 1993; Cavalier Chronicle; Census; Navy muster roll; grave marker; North Dakota marriage license.; Defense Department. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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