Lester "Les" Kent was known around Sebastopol for his friendly way of strumming guitar tunes for audiences at the Apple Valley Nursing Home.
His music also helped he and his Navy shipmates remain calm on a cold night in October 1943, when his ship, the U.S.S. Borie, sank into icy Arctic waters after a firefight during World War II. Kent was one of 129 men who survived the sinking; 27 died.
Kent wrote about the fateful night in an unpublished memoir he penned a decade ago. Kent died peacefully on Sept. 23. He was 88 years old.
"He was a beautiful person," said his wife, Connie Kent of Sebastopol, as she recalled his life and read excerpts from his memoir. "Warm, giving, and ready to play music any minute that anybody had an instrument."
Kent was born in Canadian, Texas, and grew up in San Luis Valley, Colo. When he was 17, he came home one night and learned from his mother that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
"I didn't sleep much that night as I knew that our lives were in for a major change," Kent wrote in his memoir. "As soon as school was over …. we got in my Chevy and headed for Monta Vista, and the Navy recruiting station."
In the Navy, Kent went learned to operate sonar equipment, and served on the U.S.S. Thrush, U.S.S. J. Fred Talbot and finally the U.S.S. Borie.
On Halloween night, 1943, the U.S.S. Borie was heading south from the Arctic Circle when it came across a German submarine, called a U-boat.
"Our search lights were on the sub, which was good for our gun crews, but also gave the sub something to shoot at," Kent wrote.
Eventually, the bow of the ship got hung up on the submarine, and Germans started firing.