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12:18 PM Sun, Dec. 09th

Prescott Valley man's naval career spans 22 years, two wars

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier>br>Robert Kerrigan a Navy Veteran holds up a display case of his many medals and awards from his service during the Korean and Vietnam Wars Tuesday afternoon at his home in Prescott Valley.  Kerrigan served in the Navy from 1951-1973.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 --><br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier>br>Robert Kerrigan a Navy Veteran holds up a display case of his many medals and awards from his service during the Korean and Vietnam Wars Tuesday afternoon at his home in Prescott Valley. Kerrigan served in the Navy from 1951-1973.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 --><br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

Robert Junior "Bob" Kerrigan, a Prescott Valley resident since 1977, grew up in Brainerd, Minnesota, the youngest of eight children. He had four older sisters and three older brothers. All of his brothers were Army men who fought in World War II.

When his time came to serve, he joined the Navy.

"They told me," Kerrigan said of his brothers. "Don't join the Army, get in the Navy."

He took their advice, enlisting in 1951. The move launched a naval career that spanned 22 years, two wars - Korea and Vietnam - and stateside assignments in Illinois and San Diego.

Kerrigan completed basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes and then took additional training to become a machinist's mate. His first assignment was on the U.S.S. Talladega, an APA-208. That stands for "Attack, Personnel, Auxiliary," and the Talladega transported troops - 600 to 800 at a time - to Korea.

He served as a throttleman in the engine room, watching over the ship's massive engines to make sure they kept running properly.

"That was quite a deal," he said.

He also spent time on the U.S.S. Fort Marion, another transport ship, before moving on to destroyers - the U.S.S. Ingersoll, U.S.S. Mansfield and the U.S.S. Henry W. Tucker.

He was stationed in Japan for a couple of years and served as master at arms at Great Lakes from 1959 to 1961.

It was while Kerrigan was in Japan that he met the woman who would become his wife, Chiyoko. She goes by Sono. She was a nurse. A friend introduced them and helped them communicate, because she spoke little English and he didn't speak Japanese. On their first date, for which they had a chaperone, she remembered they went to see "The Ten Commandments."

He asked Sono to marry him in 1954. She said "yes," and once she passed a thorough physical and extensive family background check, he received permission to marry that expired in 24 hours. They were married at the American Embassy in Tokyo (by the vice counsel of the U.S.) on July 18, 1956 - a day before Kerrigan's birthday. He had to return to the ship right away, and didn't see his new wife again until December, when his ship docked in Sasebo, Japan.

Kerrigan was aboard a ship in 1965 when Sono had her left kidney removed. The Navy took him by helicopter from his destroyer to an aircraft carrier that took him to Manila, Philippines. From there he flew to San Francisco and then to Balboa Hospital in San Diego.

He was also on duty when their son, Mark, was born - a healthy, 5-pound, 12 1/2-ounce baby boy. The sailor who delivered the message caused a bit of a stir by initially saying it was a 12-pound baby.

In the early '60s, Kerrigan spent several weeks with 18 fellow sailors at Camp Pendleton, California, undergoing special combat training with the Marines. They were to be assigned to Jump Division 22.

In 1968, Kerrigan was a machinist's mate first class stationed on the U.S.S. Mansfield off the coast of Vietnam. The ship took a hit from shore and a machinist's mate second class, standing feet away from him, was hit. He died from his injuries.

Kerrigan wasn't hit, but he did take shrapnel, he said. He also served on the Saigon River. Exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam left him with 40 percent disability.

He ended his military career at the San Diego Naval Development Training Center, retiring in 1973 with the rank of petty officer first class. He earned many awards, including a Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Korean Service Medal with two stars, Vietnam Service Medal and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

Of all his time in the Navy, one moment stands out as a favorite memory.

"My favorite time is when I met you," he said to his wife of 59 years.

Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2036, or 928-830-2928.