Benjamin R. Broiles, 20-year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Louis Broiles of Fontana, was the first Fontanan killed in World War II.
Broiles attended Fontana Junior High in the mid-1930s and enlisted in the Navy in January 1940, after completing his junior year at Chaffey High School, before Fontana High School was built, and was assigned to the USS Asheville, a WWI-vintage gunboat.
On March 3, 1942, the ship was engaged and sunk by two enemy Japanese destroyers about 300 miles south of Java. All personnel were considered Missing in Action; however it was later learned that a sole survivor, Fireman 2nd Class Fred Brown, was pulled from the water by the Japanese. Brown died in March 1945 in a Japanese POW camp, but not before telling the story of what had happened to the Asheville.
After the war, fellow POWs said Brown told them the Japanese machine gunned all other sailors who were thrown into the sea after the attack, leaving Brown as the only survivor. They reported that the Japanese intentionally saved him in hopes of forcing him to divulge U.S. Navy strength in the area. It is believed that Broiles was still on the boat when attacked and was most likely killed almost immediately. He was officially declared Killed in Action after the war on Nov. 25, 1945.
For his Navy service and ultimate sacrifice, Broiles was posthumously awarded the American Defense, the Asiatic Pacific, the American Campaign and the Navy Good Conduct Medals. He also received the WWII Victory Military Ribbon and the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is presented on behalf of the President of the United States to recognize members of the military who were wounded or killed in battle. Additionally, Fontana’s VFW Post 6563 is named in his honor.
The whereabouts of Broiles' actual medals remained a mystery until November of 2018, when U.S. Army/Army Reserve veteran and former Fontana City Councilman Bill Freeman presented them to VFW Post 6563. Freeman came into their possession in the mid-1990s when former Fontana City Councilman and WWII Army Air Corps veteran Dr. Charles Koehler asked him to safeguard them. Koehler received them decades before from Broiles' widow, who asked that they always be safeguarded by a fellow vet.
Broiles’ medals and his extensive biography are on display at the Fontanan Ralph Broiles VFW Post 6563, located at 9190 Fontana Avenue. Additional copies of the biography are also available for review in the Fontana Historical Society, located on the 2nd floor of the Lewis Library and Technology Center on Sierra Avenue.
(As always, Bill Freeman would appreciate hearing from you if you have more information regarding Petty Officer Harvey or any of the other Fontanans killed in WWII, Korea, Vietnam or the War on Terror. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)