Tolley, Kemp, Rear Adm., USN (Ret.)

Tolley, Kemp, Rear Adm., USN (Ret.)


Admiral Tolley's colorful life and skill as a storyteller make him the perfect subject for an oral history. In Volume I he discusses his early years as an Army brat and his midshipman years leading to graduation in 1929. His career followed relatively normal channels as junior officer with duty on board the USS Florida (BB-30), Texas (BB-35), Canopus (AS-9), Houston (CA-30), and Mindanao (PR-8) in the 1930s. 

Then came a series of free-form tours as a Russian language student with loose intelligence duties in China, Manchuria, and Eastern Europe. Tolley gives not only a narrative of events during this period before World War II, but also provides the reader with the flavor of the locale. Next came duty on board the USS Wyoming (BB-32), service as an aide to Commander, South China Patrol on board the USS Mindanao (PR-8), and as executive officer on board the USS Tutuila (PR-4). 

In the late 1930s Admiral Tolley went back to China for a short period of intelligence work, followed by a year at the Naval Academy in 1940, and then back to Asiatic duty as executive officer on the Yangtze gunboat USS Wake (PR-3), during which time he narrowly escaped capture by the Japanese.

Admiral Tolley begins the brisk-paced concluding volume of his oral history with his speculations on the widespread foreknowledge of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor among our leaders in Washington. He talks about the Roberts Commission and the naval officers whose lives were affected so greatly by the "surprise" attack. 

After all the offbeat junior officer duties he described so colorfully in his first volume, as Tolley advanced in rank his billets became more ordinary, though his enduring storytelling ability makes them seem anything but. He served as navigator on board the battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55) in the last year of World War II, during that ship's participation in action off Leyte, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. After the war, he became intelligence officer on the OpNav staff, commanded the attack transport USS Vermilion (AKA-107), and directed the intelligence division at the Armed Forces Staff College, where his unorthodox teaching methods were frowned upon (although his classes were very popular). 

Other tours included operations officer on the staff of Commander Amphibious Group Two and command of Amphibious Squadron Five, during which time he was tasked with forming an evacuation plan for Taiwan. He developed such good rapport with the Japanese that, after his retirement in 1959, he was recalled to active duty to participate in the dedication of the Mikasa memorial. In 1967 he was recalled a second time to serve as convoy commander in the Pacific. Throughout his narration, Tolley's engaging sense of humor, complemented by his flair for the dramatic, is in evidence.

Transcripts of this oral history are available in many formats including bound volumes, and digital copies.

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Volume II

Based on three interviews conducted by John T. Mason, Jr., from September 1975 through August 1976, the volume contains 370 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1984 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

About Volume I

Based on three interviews conducted by John T. Mason Jr. from June through August 1975, the volume contains 484 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1983 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.