S1c Kenneth Edward Gebhardt,


S1c Kenneth Edward Gebhardt

Two boyhood friends from Pierce County in north-central North Dakota were killed on the U.S.S. Arizona in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

When Kenneth Edward Gebhardt and Steve Louie Lesmeister enlisted in the Navy on Oct. 8, 1940, the population of the county was 9,200.

Mr. Gebhardt was a seaman first class when he was killed. Mr. Lesmeister was an electrician’s mate and petty officer third class.

Mr. Gebhardt was born July 16, 1917 in North Dakota to Anthony Gebhardt, a farmer, and Ethel Cole Gebhardt, a homemaker. She died the next year in the flu epidemic. His father married again in 1921, to Rachel Young Gebhardt.

By the time of the 1940 Census, conducted in the spring, Kenneth was identified as having completed 8th grade and as an employee on the family farm.

Just before the first anniversary of her stepson’s death, Rachel Gebhardt enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps as a cook. At about the same time, Kenneth’s half-brother, Garland, joined the Navy. Kenneth’s brother Aaron served in the Army from 1940 through the summer of 1945.

Mr. Lesmeister was born Dec. 21, 1919 in North Dakota to Ludwig Lesmeister, a farmer, and Theresa Dillman Lesmeister, a homemaker. Both parents were Russian immigrants who homesteaded in Pierce County in 1906.

The 1940 Census identified Steve, whose birth name was Stephanus, as a high school graduate and as a clerical worker at a recreation parlor. He worked 52 weeks in 1939 and earned $360 — the equivalent of $6,500 in 2018.

The fathers of both men served as Pierce County commissioners.

There is a cenotaph for Mr. Gebhardt at Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Esmond, North Dakota, and one for Mr. Lesmeister at Saint Cecilia Catholic Cemetery in Harvey, North Dakota.


Sources; The Bismarck (North Dakota) Tribune; the Winona (Minnesota) Republican-Herald; the book “Esmond Diamond Jubilee, 1901-1976”; Census; Navy muster rolls; cemetery markers; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 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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