Rear Adm. Isaac Kidd died at Pearl Harbor but legacy dims in hometown
By BRIAN ALBRECHT | The Plain Dealer, Cleveland | Published: December 7, 2017
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Seventy-six years ago, when the Japanese dropped a bomb on the battleship USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, blowing Rear Adm. Isaac Kidd to oblivion, it seemed one of several twists of fate dimming the legacy of one of the city's most promising native sons.
That diminished legacy arose in Jim Dubelko's 2015 research on Kidd's birth and childhood on the city's West Side, and his naval career that ended in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack that launched America into World War II.
Dubelko, 67, of Cleveland, is a retired attorney and staff researcher/writer for Cleveland State University's ClevelandHistorical.org website.
Two years ago he was approached by Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka (who died earlier this year) with a research project. Pianka had an ardent interest in local history and asked Dubelko to look into the life and times of Kidd.
The highest-ranking casualty at Pearl Harbor, Kidd was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, for "conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life during the attack."
But Dubelko soon discovered that the local symbols of the admiral's life here — the houses he grew up in, the schools he attended — had been bulldozed by time.
"One of the sad parts about the story of his death was that his body was never found," Dubelko said. "He was blown up when the bomb from the plane hit the magazine on the ship right underneath the bridge, and just blew upwards and disintegrated everything including Adm. Kidd's body.
"So no body was ever found, no house (where Kidd once lived) still standing. The schools that he went to were also torn down," Dubelko added.
"So the only thing — and it's one of the things that motivated me on doing the research and writing the story — is that there's really very little by way of a memorial to Adm. Kidd here in Cleveland," he said.
"There's a historical marker on East Ninth Street across from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, but it's sort of in an inconspicuous place."
The "erasures" of Kidd's life, locally, were discovered soon after Dubelko started his research.
He was able to find the little gray house where Kidd was born (in 1884) at 3059 Mabel Court in Ohio City.
But when he reported the find to Pianka, the judge gasped and said he'd just signed a court order to have the house demolished because it had been severely damaged by fire.
Dubelko later turned up the locations of two other houses where Kidd grew up — on Tillman Avenue and West 50th Street.
But those, too, had been torn down.
Dubelko recalled, "Every time I found something out, another house that no longer existed, Judge Pianka would say to me, 'More bad luck for the admiral.'"
But the old neighborhood still exists on the near West Side where Isaac and Jemina Campbell Kidd raised their son.
Kidd's father was an Irish immigrant who first worked as a coachman for Cleveland industrialist Samuel Mather, then became an entrepreneur and inventor who developed a system for dropping harnesses on horses at fire departments so units could respond faster to fires.
The neighborhood was a mix of English, Irish and German immigrants, many who worked on the Great Lakes. At one point a ship's captain lived next door to Kidd.
So "there was a good number of people he could have talked to as a young boy about stories on the lake and everything, which could have inspired him to want to pursue a career in the Navy," Dubelko said.
Dubelko learned that Kidd "was a recognized leader early on, in grade school (the old Detroit School) and high school for sure.
"He was president of his class (at West High School) and gave a commencement address (in 1902) in which he ironically spoke of 'the yellow peril,'" Dubelko said. "What he meant was the threat of Japanese in the Pacific, their desire to expand militarily. It's so ironic he would die in an attack by the Japanese."
After high school, Kidd attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was the school's heavyweight boxing champion and played football.
After graduation in 1906, he served in a number of positions including sailing around the world in President Theodore Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet" (so-named for the color of the ships).
During World War I, Kidd served on a ship patrolling the coast of Mexico at a time when it was feared that Mexico might join Germany in an alliance against America.
In 1938, he became captain of the battleship USS Arizona. Dubelko said Kidd was then promoted to rear admiral and assumed command of Battleship Division One at Pearl Harbor, consisting of the Arizona, USS Pennsylvania and USS Nevada.
When the Japanese attacked, "he headed to the bridge of the Arizona and assumed command," Dubelko said. "He did the best he could under very, very difficult circumstances, to try to do what he could to repel the attack."
That effort ended the moment a Japanese bomb hit the ship's forward magazine, directly under the bridge. "No part of his body was ever found," Dubelko said. "His Naval Academy ring was found welded to the bridgehead by the force of the explosion."
Dubelko said Kidd was one of 10 Clevelanders killed at Pearl Harbor during the attack, including Navy Ensign William Halloran, who also died aboard the Arizona along with 1,176 shipmates.
The city created Halloran Park on West 117th Street in 1946 to salute the sailor.
Dubelko couldn't help but note that Halloran "was an ensign, and here we have a rear admiral from Cleveland who probably died equally as bravely."
And there is no Kidd Park.
The Navy paid tribute to Kidd by naming three warships and a class of destroyers for the fallen flag officer. The first of the three was christened in 1943 by his wife, Inez.
Their son, Isaac Kidd Jr., who died in 1999, kept the family's name prominent in a 40-year naval career that included service as Supreme Allied Commander of the NATO Atlantic Fleet, and also commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
Dubelko speculated that the elder Kidd was probably a "tough guy. If I met him in a bar, I think I'd be very polite and respectful.
"Very brave. I think he had strong morals," he added. "And I think he was a little bit of a romantic, from probably the stories I fancy he would have heard growing up on West 50th Street."
Dubelko suspected that most Clevelanders don't know about Kidd.
"I would imagine that's the case, which is somewhat ironic because there's so much attention focused on World War II and surviving veterans, you would expect that this would be a time for people, Clevelanders especially, to recognize Kidd's career and his bravery at Pearl Harbor," he said.
"I don't know that that's the case," he added. "Cleveland has a wonderful, rich history, and Kidd has certainly been part of it."
©2017 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
Visit The Plain Dealer, Cleveland at www.cleveland.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.