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Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk

  • Unit: USS Swordfish
  • Service Number: 6273179
  • Date of Birth: December 23, 1913
  • Entered the Military: October 13, 1942
  • Date of Death: January 12, 1945
  • Hometown: Mount Vernon, Indiana
  • Place of Death: off the coast of the Ryukyu Islands
  • Award(s): Purple Heart
  • Cemetery: Courts of the Missing. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawai'i
Contributed by Olivia Freeman
Mentored by Ms. Dawn Crone
Brownsburg High School

Early Life

Vernon Kirk was born on December 23, 1923, in Posey County, Mount Vernon, Indiana. His parents were Henry Augustus Kirk and Annabelle Woods Kirk. He was one of 11 children, including three sisters and seven brothers. Kirk attended Mount Vernon High School, where he completed one full year of schooling. After his year of school, he worked for an employer by the name of Abner Carey until his enlistment in the war.


Mount Vernon, Indiana is located in the southwest corner of Indiana along the Ohio and Wabash Rivers. After the Civil War, many African Americans moved there and settled in the two known black rural settlements located in the Black and Point Townships. Vernon Kirk lived in Black Township, Mount Vernon. The nearby town of Evansville was a manufacturing hub during World War II. 

An Office of Production Management Official asked the president of Chrysler if they could make three to five billion .45 caliber cartridges, and they did, in Evansville. Along with ammunition, Evansville produced tanks and ships. Because of the close proximity of Evansville to Mount Vernon, it is very possible many Mount Vernon citizens worked in Evansville.  

Military Experience

Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 13, 1942. Steward Kirk spent his service on two submarines, the USS Snapper (SS-185) and the USS Swordfish (SS-193). The USS Snapper and USS Swordfish were often dispatched to the Pacific Theater, and both departed from Pearl Harbor. 

During Kirk’s service, the USS Snapper patrolled around Japan, and the USS Swordfish sailed through the Mariana Islands, Majuro, the Bonin Islands, and then Okinawa. His two successful patrols with the USS Swordfish involved patrolling the Mariana Islands and the Bonin Islands.

In his third, and final patrol USS Swordfish was in the vicinity of Nansei Shoto, or the Ryukyu Islands. The USS Swordfish acknowledged orders on January 3, 1945, but that was the last time the ship made contact. By February 15, 1945, radio contact with the USS Swordfish was confirmed lost after many attempts to reach her. Records indicate that while preparing for the Battle of Okinawa, she was sunk somewhere near the Ryukyu Islands, by a mine in the water.


Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk served in the United States Navy during World War II. He was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Indiana, by Henry Augustus Kirk and Annabelle Kirk along with his ten siblings. 

At 18, he was called to serve our country and enlisted on October 13, 1942. Steward Third Class Kirk was a submariner and served on two submarines, the USS Snapper and the USS Swordfish. As an African American, Kirk was limited to the position of steward. At the time, a steward was restricted in his training and duties but was assigned battle stations just like everyone else aboard the submarine. 

Steward Kirk served on the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth patrols of the USS Swordfish. On December 14, 1944, the USS Swordfish left Pearl Harbor for her thirteenth and final patrol. She took 89 men, including Steward Kirk, with her to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Both Kirk and his crewmates’ confirmed date of death is January 12, 1945. Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk was 21 years old at the time. 

He left behind no wife and no children, but his legacy continues today through his extended family and us. Today, Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk is being honored as a hero for his sacrifice. For his sacrifice, Kirk was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously. Steward Third Class Kirk’s name is inscribed on the waterfront memorial for USS Swordfish at the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaiʻi. Thank you for your service.

Video created and provided by Pacific Historic Parks.


The experience I have had learning about Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk is priceless. First of all, it was an honor to tell his story. To be able to put a voice to someone who gave their life for their country is amazing. Overall, I have learned so much. Not just about the war but about how to properly do historical research. From citations to checking the validity of sources, being able to research someone who existed and retrace their steps was eye-opening. After completing this program and research, I have developed a huge amount of respect for soldiers and historians. 

I loved learning about Steward Third Class Vernon Kirk and his service aboard submarines. Learning facts like submarine service is voluntary or that he spent the majority of his Navy career aboard submarines left me in awe of the man. Additionally, doing research where I had to call his old high school for records and look for hours through records to find muster rolls or biographical information really gave me respect for people who work as researchers. I am better because I got to participate in this program, and I am eternally thankful. 


Primary Sources

Indiana. Posey County. 1930 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images.

Indiana. Posey County. 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images.

Swordfish (SS-193), 7/22/39-1/45.” National Archives and Records Administration (NAID 192238870).

USS Swordfish (SS-193). Photograph. June 13, 1943. Naval History and Heritage Command (19-N-51811).

Vernon Kirk. U.S., Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Unaccounted-for Remains, Group A (Recoverable), 1941-1975.

Vernon Kirk. U.S., Navy Casualty Books, 1776-1941. Digital images.

Vernon Kirk. World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947. Digital images.

Vernon Kirk. World War II Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualties, 1941-1945. Digital images.

Vernon Kirk. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949. Digital images.

Secondary Sources

“Battle of Okinawa.” Naval History and Heritage Command. Updated May 3, 2022. Accessed May 30, 2022.

“Early Black Settlements by County.” Indiana Historical Society, Updated January 26, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2022.

“Evansville in World War II.” Yesterday’s America. Accessed April 13, 2022.

“Indiana and Another World War.” The History Museum. Accessed April 18, 2022.

MacGregor, Jr., Morris J. Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2001.

Mercier, Stephanie. “Agriculture during Wartime: The Ingenuity of American Farmers During World War II.” Ag Web Farm Journal, April 7, 2021.

Morris, Jr., Roy. “Evansville, Indiana: World War II’s Can-Do City.” HistoryNet, April 5, 2022.

Port of Indiana-Mount Vernon. Video file. January 18, 2017. Port of Indiana.

“Ports of Indiana-Mount Vernon.” Evansville Regional Economic Partnership. Accessed April 24, 2020.

Scherber, Annette. “Corn, Tomatoes, & POWs: Hoosier Agriculture During World War II.” Indiana History Blog. Indiana Historical Society. November 17, 2016.

“St3 Vernon Kirk.” Find a Grave. Accessed October 25, 2022.

Swordfish (SS-193).” Accessed May 30, 2022.

Swordfish I (SS-193).” Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed May 30, 2022.

“USGS Topographic Map Explorer.” United States Geological Survey. Accessed November 16, 2022.

“Vernon Kirk.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed October 25, 2022.

“Vernon Kirk.” Honor States. Accessed March 7, 2022.

“Welcome to Mount Vernon Indiana.” Greater Mount Vernon Indiana Association. Accessed April 18, 2022.

Wittmer, Paul W. and Charles R. Hinman. “On Eternal Patrol—The Loss of the USS Swordfish (SS-193).” On Eternal Patrol. Accessed October 25, 2022.

Zimmerman, Dwight. “Bullets by the Billions: Chrysler Switches World War II Production from Cars to Cartridges.” Defense Media Network. Accessed April 18, 2022.