WASHINGTON -- California lawmakers want the Navy to name a ship after Kenneth L. Worley, a former Modesto resident and Medal of Honor recipient in Vietnam.
Worley didn't survive his heroic act. The Marine lance corporal, who lived in Modesto for several years as a teenager, died in 1968 at age 20 after he threw himself on an enemy grenade.
"Through his extraordinary initiative, he saved his comrades from serious injury and possible loss of life," Worley's Medal of Honor citation states.
In a letter prepared Friday, the state's two senators and two of the San Joaquin Valley's House members joined other lawmakers in proposing that a ship be named for Worley.
"Someone who earns the Medal of Honor fighting for his country should at least be considered for this kind of honor," said Spencer Pedersen, spokesman for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.
Radanovich and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, joined the effort originally championed by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach. Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer added their voices to the letter being sent to Navy Secretary Raymond E. Mabus Jr.
Navy spokeswoman Laurie Tall said Friday that navy secretaries typically consider ship name recommendations forwarded by the chief of naval operations, "along with his own thoughts," and will select names "at appropriate times." The two-page congressional letter provides Worley's service information, from his June 14, 1967 enlistment in Fresno to his November 1967 arrival in South Vietnam and his duties as a machine gunner with L Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
In August 1968, Worley's company was sweeping through Quang Nam province. On the night of Aug. 11, Worley was part of an ambush team set up in a house in the hamlet of Bo Ban. Sometime during the early morning hours of Aug. 12, the Marines were awakened by the platoon leader's grenade warning.
Worley threw himself upon the nearest grenade, absorbing the blast and shrapnel, according to his medal citation.
"To fully understand the sacrifice made by Lance Cpl. Worley, we believe it is necessary to look at not only his service as a Marine, but the hardship he overcame to become one," the lawmakers stated.
Worley was born in New Mexico and orphaned at a young age. He dropped out of high school after two years and moved to Modesto at age 16, where he was said to have lived with his aunt in a grim, unadorned trailer. He reportedly worked as a truck driver, hauling Christmas trees, until he got hurt.
Modesto residents Don and Rose Feyerman, who have since died, considered Worley to be their ninth child and served as his foster parents, according to a 2008 Associated Press account.
A North Dakota State University psychologist, Terence Barrett, subsequently learned of Worley's hardscrabble life and heroic end and conducted his own research.
In recent years, more attention has come Worley's way, including a 2004 ceremony in Orange County, where Worley was originally buried.
Attending that 2004 ceremony was Worley's former girlfriend Quonieta, whose last name is now Murphy, and their son Robert, who was born in 1967 after Worley shipped out for South Vietnam.