Thursday, August 11, 2022

Book Review: Cats in the Navy

By Scot Christenson
Reviewed by Lee Duckworth
HRNM Docent
Cats in the Navy is published by Naval Institute Press. Find out more at: https://www.usni.org/press/books/cats-navy 
Cats in the Navy is a short, whimsical book filled with photographs that cat lovers will enjoy. Each photo is accompanied with a short write-up about that specific cat and a more detailed paragraph on the facing page that describes that cat’s role in the Navy. The author is obviously a cat-lover as several photos are from his own personal collection.

The first chapter of the book provides an overview of the history of cats at sea, going back over 3,000 years to ancient Egyptian seafarers. The author focuses most of his book on United States and British Navy ships with cats embarked during WWI and WWII and the inter-war period. 

The next portion of the book explains the various tasks assigned to the ship’s cat (e.g., elimination of rodents that spread disease, storm warning, crew morale, and companionship). Just the right amount of information is given to each of the highlighted cats. A short paragraph highlights a unique characteristic of that feline and is accompanied with a photograph of the cat and its often humorous interaction with the crew.
One page from Cats in the Navy, showing the types of images and writing included in this book (Naval Institute Press)
The final section of the book is devoted to some “heroic” cats and is fetchingly titled “Claws of Fame.” Their heroic actions (at least in the eyes of their shipmates) deal mainly with cats being viewed as “good luck charms,” especially after surviving a ship’s collision, engagement with the enemy, battle damage, or sinking.

The author includes a few ‘catchy’ phrases but doesn’t go overboard with naval terms such as aircraft carrier bow and waist cats, catenary in refueling lines, or cat’s paws on the water. All-in-all, this is a fun book for pet lovers of all ages and there is sufficient research to suggest that those interested in naval history will also enjoy the read.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Sea Stories: The Bonnie Dick

By David J. Scherer
HRNM Volunteer

It was not long after joining the volunteer crew of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum that I was asked to write a few memories of my time aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA 31), aka "The Bonnie Dick." I suppose my bragging about a ship many years long gone prompted one of my fellows to ask me to put it on paper.
USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA 31) during sea trials (U.S. Navy)
Everything needs a starting point. Mine was in the autumn of 1957 when six friends and I boarded a commercial plane in Denver for a hop to San Francisco and the naval transfer station at Treasure Island. We had no idea where we would be a week hence. We were fitted with a new sea bag and given strict instructions to stick around until departure orders came through. All but one of us were earmarked for Yokosuka, Japan, and the USS Bon Homme Richard.

My Denver friends were assigned flight deck duty, the most dangerous positions on a carrier at sea. I reported to the OI Division (operations and intelligence). I would be inside, working behind a back-lighted status board. Listening to the room duty officer talking to our aircraft operating within 10 miles of our ship, I noted pertinent facts on a transparent status board, printing backwards: Pilot, plane side number, call sign, time launched, fuel state, any pertinent information, time aboard . . . do it right the first time. I loved it.

My Bon Homme Richard was the second of three ships bearing the name. The first dates to 1776 and John Paul Jones. The third and probably last ship to bear the storied name burned at the San Diego Naval Base in 2020 and was decommissioned in 2021.
John Paul Jones on the first Bonhomme Richard (NHHC)
A naval ship at sea is a fine place to make and keep friends for a lifetime. In my case it was Dave Duffy from Everett, Washington, an unrated prankster and one whose middle name was MISCHIEF. Duffy bore a notable resemblance to the Hollywood heartthrob James Dean, and he made it work for him ashore. Duffy was not beyond creating havoc whatever the location. My pal Duffy and I went a long way as buds and made many memories together. He helped me bury my mother. Not long ago, I buried him.

The biggest show in town always draws a crowd. That is how it was for an aircraft carrier cruising the Taiwan Strait in October 1957. It certainly drew a handful of notables on the 19th of that month. That was when a COD (carrier on board delivery aircraft) came aboard the Bonnie Dick and deplaned the likes of US Navy Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations. Admiral Burke attracted some of our friends: the assault carrier Kearsage, the anti-submarine carrier Princeton, helicopter carrier Thetis Bay, cruisers Roanoke and Rochester, and the guided missile cruiser Los Angeles. Each ship's captain was picked up by helicopter to take lunch with the chief aboard the Bon Homme Richard. As you might imagine, I was not invited.

Instead, I turned to matters that would serve me. I studied for my upcoming test for petty officer third class and air traffic controlman. I passed both and then learned I would be transferred to a fighter squadron at NAS Moffat Field, California. Unfortunately, there is no such animal as air traffic controlman in a fighter outfit.
Dave Scherer with the Operations and Intelligence team aboard Bon Homme Richard. Dave is immediately behind the officer in the center. (Bon Homme Richard cruise book)
As fate would have it, my new air group reported aboard its aircraft carrier: the Bon Homme Richard, CVA 31. I just moved across the passageway. Why not? We were billeted across from my old division. I never left my former brothers in navy blue, but I did not get my old job. My new squadron skipper kept his billet filled by assigning me as keeper of the squadron ready room. I cleaned the place, acquired the movies, ran the projector, kept the icebox filled with geedunks (teeth-rotting goodies), typed and photocopied the next day's flight schedule, slipped a copy under each pilot's stateroom door, and kept my nose clean until the ship returned to California and I, after two years aboard, to Colorado.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Please Petty Officer Third Class, Don’t Hurt ‘Em

By William Clarkson
HRNM Educator
Album cover for MC Hammer’s 1990 album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (Image from xxlmag.com)
In the olden days of the year 1990, amidst the breakup of the Soviet Union, reunification of East and West Germany, release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa, and the leadup to the First Gulf War, hip-hop was enjoying what many considered to be its golden era. Numerous artists from this time have become household names. People and groups such as Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Run D-M-C, and Snoop Dogg enjoyed growing success and international acclaim. Among these titans of the industry, one Stanley Kirk Burrell (aka MC Hammer) was reaching the height of his music career. With the release of Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em in 1990, which contained the hit “U Can’t Touch This,” MC Hammer joined the ranks of the top hip-hop artists. Both the album and single reached top spots on U.S. and international charts, catapulting Hammer to a level of unparalleled success. However, before his stellar rise to fame and fortune, MC Hammer had other aspirations and careers, including service in the United Stated Navy.
Young Stanley Burrell (MC Hammer) with “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron. (twitter.com/MCHammer)
Stanley Kirk Burrell was born on March 30, 1962, in Oakland, California, and is the youngest of seven siblings. From his youth, Stanley Burrell pursued his dual interests of music and baseball. He spent much of his time watching the Oakland Athletics baseball team and was even hired as a batboy by the Athletics’ owner, Charles O. Finley. Finley was impressed by the young Burrell and assigned him additional duties around the team’s clubhouse. It is there that Burrell acquired the moniker “Hammer.” Players and staff began calling him “Hammer” due to his resemblance to the legendary baseball player, “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron. After graduating high school in 1980, Burrell attended community college briefly and participated in try-outs for the San Francisco Giants baseball team. When he was not selected to join the team as a player, Burrell found himself at a crossroads. At this critical moment, Stanley Burrell enlisted in the United States Navy.
A P3c Orion flies past Mount Fuji, Japan. VP-47 operated these types of planes while MC Hammer (AK3 Burrell) was a member of the squadron. (Navytimes.com)
In the Navy, Burrell’s rating was AK, or Aviation Storekeeper.[i] He served as a member of P3 Orion Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Squadron VP-47, known as “The Golden Swordsman.” As an Aviation Storekeeper, AK3 Burrell oversaw maintaining parts and equipment stocks, ordering, and dispensing all that was needed for the successful operation of the squadron. As an ASW squadron, VP-47 conducted antisubmarine and maritime surveillance duties. These duties brought AK3 Burrell, along with the squadron, to Naval Air Station Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, where the squadron was permanently stationed from 1965-1993. AK3 Burrell deployed with V-47 to Japan in support of Task Group 72 and Patrol and Reconnaissance Force in 7th Fleet, where the squadron received praise from commanders of both organizations. After completing his three-year enlistment, and returning to NAS Moffett Field, AK3 Burrell was honorably discharged in 1984.
MC Hammer today continues his music career, as well as invests in A.I. and tech companies. (Image from deezer.com)
After his Navy service, Burrell, now going by the moniker “MC Hammer,” renewed his pursuit of a career in music, and started his own record label called Bust It Records. He eventually started recording for Capitol Records, where his meteoric rise truly began, and he became a household name. Despite some controversy and financial problems during the early 1990s, Hammer has continued his music career with numerous releases from his own Bust It Records and other labels. While many today remember or grew up with MC Hammer’s music, his time in the US Navy is not so well known. Like many other celebrities, Hammer made a choice at a pivotal point in his life to enter military service. While many will only know MC Hammer from his career in entertainment, the people with whom he served in the Navy will probably always remember him as AK3 Stanley Burrell.



Notes:
[i] The AK rating has since been merged, along with the SK (Storekeeper) and the PC (Postal Clerk) ratings, into the LS (Logistics Specialist) rating.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

In the Collection: USS San Pablo Bell Remnant

By Nick Wieman
HRNM Intern

Pictured here is a remnant of the original bell from USS San Pablo (AVP 30), a Barnegat-class seaplane tender in service with the US Navy between 1943 and 1969. Rear Admiral Stuart H. Smith, Supply Corps, USN (Ret.) donated this bell to the Museum in 1990. Smith served aboard San Pablo as a “plank owner,” meaning he was with the ship since its commissioning. According to Smith, this ship’s bell has the ignoble distinction of having been destroyed not by the Japanese, but by San Pablo’s crew itself!
Front view, USS San Pablo bell remnant. “U.S.S/San Pablo/1943” (HRNM)
When standing upright on its base, the bell fragment measures 11.25” in length, 4.5” in width from the lip (bottom of the bell), and 9” in height; as this plaque is made up of the ship’s bell cut in half, when in service the bell would have measured a total of 9” in width. It appears to be constructed of brass or bronze, which over time has dulled into a sort of beige. It prominently features a molded with “U.S.S/SAN PABLO/1943”, with a reddish-brown metal inset. The bell is set in a wood base, painted black, with a green felt cover on the bottom and a reddish sticker on the back.
Top view, USS San Pablo bell remnant (HRNM)
Overall, the bell is in good condition, if showing its age. The lettering in the inscription is severely cracked, showing the discolored metal underneath. The paint on the wood base is fading and flaking in places, the green felt base has several holes showing the unpainted wood underneath, and the wood itself is chipped and scratched.

The ship’s bell has had a long history in the world’s navies for both functional and ceremonial purposes, and the United States Navy is no different. The bell can serve many functional purposes aboard a vessel, from warning signals in poor visibility to alerting the crew to a fire on board. Until the invention of modern time-keeping devices like the chronometer, the bell and an hourglass were the only means of accurately recording time at sea, with the bell being rung every half hour. From this, the bell’s most common function in modern navies is to mark the passage of time during a ship’s watch, with eight rings signaling the end of a four-hour watch. The bell also continues to be rung to mark the arrival and departure of the captain, officers, and important guests aboard the ship.

By representing a tradition dating back to the earliest days of the Age of Sail, the ship’s bell provides a sense of continuity for Sailors in modern navies with their nautical forebears. The importance of the ship’s bell cannot be overstated. Most dramatically, bells are often used in baptisms for children of the crew, either held aloft above the child or as a baptismal font (a vessel for holy water). The children’s names are then inscribed inside the bell, forever linking the child and their parents to the ship. The U.S. Navy’s ships’ bells are also unique for being permanently owned by the Department of the Navy. Once a ship is decommissioned, the bells are often loaned to state governments or national parks with some connection to the ship on which it served.
USS San Pablo (AVP 30), one week before commissioning (Wikipedia)
Commissioned March 15, 1943, the Navy dispatched USS San Pablo from the Puget Sound to San Diego, and then to Brisbane, Australia, to receive its flight crews and begin its mission. As a seaplane tender, San Pablo was a critical partner of the “Black Cats,” PBY Catalinas and PBM Mariner seaplanes engaged in night-fighting, reconnaissance, and search-and-rescue operations for downed pilots in the South Pacific Theater; their name comes from their black paint schemes for camouflage in the night sky. San Pablo was based out of Noumea, New Caledonia, and Samarai, Papua New Guinea, alongside Patrol Squadron 101 (VP-101) and Patrol Squadron 52 (VP-52), together forming Task Force 73.1. Between summer 1943 and fall 1944, San Pablo patrolled the waters of the Bismarck Seas supporting the men of VP-101 and VP-52, returning once to Brisbane in October 1943 for maintenance and shore leave. In late 1944, USS San Carlos (AVP 51) relieved San Pablo, and San Pablo went to Anibongen Bay on Leyte Island, Philippines, to assist with anti-submarine operations.
Sister ship USS Timbalier, shown for size comparison with two PBM Mariners (Wikipedia)
In late December 1944, San Pablo was attached to a supply convoy enroute to Mindaro when it came under severe and sustained attack by Japanese kamikaze aircraft. For up to a week, San Pablo and the other ships fought off the aircraft with heavy anti-aircraft fire and support from escorting planes. It was during this engagement, according to Smith, that the ship’s bell was “shattered by the intensity of our own defensive fire.” While San Pablo was not damaged during this period, a kamikaze plane narrowly missed the ship astern. That same plane hit the nearby USS Orestes, and four crewmen were wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion.
USS San Pablo (AGS 30) in oceanographic service (Wikipedia)
While set to be deactivated following the surrender of Japan, the ship received a new lease on life when the Navy recommissioned it as a hydrographic research vessel in 1948. Between 1948 and 1969, USS San Pablo (AGS 30) undertook a wide range of oceanographic studies in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean, from measuring the vast Gulf Stream current to developing more accurate topographical maps of the ocean floor. San Pablo’s service came to an end on May 29, 1969, and the ship was struck from the Navy’s registry on June 1. It was briefly owned by the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (affiliated with the University of Georgia) before being sold to a private citizen. Its final fate is unknown, although it can be presumed that San Pablo was scrapped.

Smith’s description of the incident, brief as it is, allows the reader to envision a truly chaotic scene. “The intensity of our own defensive fire” conjures images of burning ships and a smoke-filled sky, the deafening roars of anti-aircraft guns and aircraft screaming past or colliding with ships, and the smells of hot brass and oily smoke filling the air. In such an environment where the anti-air crew frantically whipped their guns about and raked the skies against Japanese aircraft, it’s easy to see how the bell could have become accidentally shattered by a stray bullet or shrapnel. It also speaks to the respect that the crew had for their ship that they salvaged what they could of the bell and preserved it in some form.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Good Deeds Done, Goodwill Won: USS Consolation Becomes SS Hope

By Zac Cunningham
School Programs Educator

Rendering aid to those imperiled on the sea is an ancient tradition among mariners. The Sailors of the United States Navy are no exception. Whether “disaster relief…, rescues at sea, refugee assistance, emergency medical deployments, [or] nation building activities,”[1] humanitarian assistance is an important mission of the Navy. The fleet’s gleaming white hospital ships are perhaps the most visible reminders of this benevolent task.

Hospital ship USS Consolation (AH 15) served as an especially unique reminder of American humanitarianism in Asia during the Cold War, first for the Navy itself and then for a non-governmental organization (NGO).
USS Consolation (AH 15) returns to San Francisco on March 30, 1955, after supporting Operation Passage to Freedom in Vietnam during its voyage in the Western Pacific. (NHHC)
In the Cold War, American humanitarianism was driven by a desire to help the world’s peoples while trying to win support for the U.S. in its struggle against the Soviet Union. Consolation first took up this cause in Asia when it sailed for Korea from Norfolk, Virginia on July 14, 1950. During the Korean War, medical staff on Consolation treated wounded Korean soldiers and civilians while helping set up Korean medical facilities.[2]

With the Korean armistice, America’s Cold Warriors shifted their focus to Vietnam. In 1954, the Geneva Accords partitioned French Indochina into Communist North Vietnam and U.S.-allied South Vietnam. For 300 days, civilians were permitted to emigrate and settle in whichever Vietnam they wished to live. Countless refugees fled to the South. In Operation Passage to Freedom, U.S. Navy landing ships, commissioned auxiliary craft, and Military Sealift Transportation Service vessels facilitated this mass movement of people.[3]
Refugees board LST 516 for their journey from Haiphong to Saigon in October 1954 during Operation Passage to Freedom. (NHHC)
USS Consolation supported Operation Passage to Freedom from September 4 to September 27, 1954, off present-day Da Nang.[4] Yeoman First Class William Bennet recalled the ship provided “medical support for the forces that were involved in the evacuation process” but did not engage in any evacuations itself. In fact, Bennett did not remember any refugees aboard.[5] Hospital Corpsman Louis McCluskey did not recall providing treatment to any refugees. He said that some doctors and nurses did visit local churches and orphanages.[6] Nurse Anne Peterson, however, remembered a handful of sick Vietnamese aboard and, despite the language barrier, tried to instill some goodwill with medical care and smiles.[7] In the end, the crew’s contact with the Vietnamese was limited. Since it did not transport or treat many Passage to Freedom evacuees, Consolation’s role in winning support for the U.S. proved limited as well.

Consolation returned to Asia six years later. On March 16, 1960, the Navy transferred the ship to Project HOPE, an NGO planning to, as the Washington Post reported, “bring the latest American medical techniques to foreign countries.”[8] One of those countries was South Vietnam, where the rechristened SS Hope visited in the summer of 1961.[9]
SS Hope in Saigon Harbor, 1961 (Project HOPE Archives)
Hope’s American volunteer doctors and nurses treated Vietnamese patients for eye problems, ulcers, throat cancer, and other maladies. The ship, however, was “primarily a teaching and training institution, a floating medical school.” Associated Press correspondent Relman Morin reported, “Its main objective is to instruct Asian physicians, nurses, students, and midwives.”[10]

At Saigon, Hope trained 28 Vietnamese doctors and 20 nurses, treated nearly “11,000 patients and performed over 500 major operations,” completed a mass inoculation program against “diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, and pertussis,” and left behind 2,000 books for the local medical school plus tons of supplies.[11]

At the same time, Project HOPE founder Dr. William B. Walsh explained that because “the power with which [the United States] emerged from World War II has been greatly resented” the ship was also “a dramatic and effective symbol of that national trait that makes our power bearable.” The trait being that the American people “reach out to other people with the wish to help them when we have little or nothing to gain from it.” Walsh wanted Hope “to make friends for the United States and . . . cause ripples of goodwill to spread throughout troubled Eastern waters.”[12]

Hope’s goodwill influence is difficult to quantify. Similar to Consolation’s brief stay in 1954, the ship remained somewhat isolated from the Vietnamese people during its three-month port call. Security around the vessel was tight and a round of gunfire reportedly hit the ship on July 4, 1961. Walsh claimed that, nevertheless, “the area outside the cordon was always full of people who simply stood and stared at the Hope.” The ship still managed to receive 9,000 visitors in its first month in Saigon, among them President Ngo Dinh Diem, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Frederick Nolting, Jr., officials from the U.S. Military Advisory Group and U.S. Operations Mission, professionals and business leaders from Saigon, important refugees from the North, Buddhist monks, and even American tourists.[13]
President Ngo Dinh Diem (center foreground) tours SS Hope on June 24, 1961, with (l-r) Project HOPE Public Information Officer Robert A. Peterson, Minister of Health Dr. Tran Dinh De, and Deputy Chief of U.S. Mission H. Francis Cunningham, Jr. (USIA USOM photo, Project HOPE Archives)
If America’s Cold War humanitarianism was driven by a desire to help the world’s peoples while trying to win support for the U.S. in its struggle against the Soviet Union, then Hope’s visit to Vietnam perhaps shored up the support of an already allied government.[14] As SS Hope and USS Consolation, this hospital ship truly was a unique reminder of American humanitarianism in Asia during the Cold War.


Notes:
[1] “The Navy’s Humanitarian Mission,” Naval History and Heritage Command, https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/disasters-and-phenomena/humanitarian-mission.html
[2] “Consolation (AH-15), 1945-1974,” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval History and Heritage Command, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/c/consolation.html
[3] Jan K. Herman, Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Passage to Freedom to the Fall of Saigon, Washington, DC, Naval History and Heritage Command, 2010. https://www.history.navy.mil/content/dam/nhhc/research/publications/Publication-PDF/NavyMedicine.pdf
[4] Operation Passage to Freedom Participating Ships, Task Force 90 Final Report, verified by Ronald B. Frankum, Jr. Ph.D., Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Department of History, http://www.ussskagit.org/optf.html
[5] Interview with William Bennett, OH0609. Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive. No Date, Mr. William Bennett Collection, Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University, https://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=OH0609
[6] Interviews with two (2) U.S. Navy sailors, 1039AU2402. Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive. 2001, Ronald B. Frankum, Jr. Collection, Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University, https://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/items.php?item=1039AU2402
[7] Ronald B. Frankum, Operation Passage to Freedom: The United States Navy in Vietnam, 1954-1955, Lubbock, Tex.: Texas Tech University Press, 2007, pg. 123.
[8] “Navy Gives Hospital Ship to HOPE for World Help,” Washington Post, March 17, 1960, B8.
[9] “U.S. Hospital Ship Arrives in Saigon,” Washington Post, June 16, 1961, A17; “Hospital Ship Hope Ends Asian Mission,” New York Times, August 27, 1961, 15.
[10] Relman Morin, “Ship with Heart Helps 18,000,” Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1961, 2.
[11] William B. Walsh, M.D., A Ship Called Hope, New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1964, 3-4, 15.
[12] Ibid., 282-3.
[13] Ibid., 233-4, 256-7.
[14] Zachary A. Cunningham, “Project HOPE as Propaganda: A Humanitarian Non-Governmental Organization Takes Part in America’s Total Cold War,” (master’s thesis, Ohio University, 2008), 140-142.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

"We Will Not Disappoint You:" Tom Eversole's Sacrifice at the Battle of Midway

By Laura Orr
HRNM Director of Education
Tom Eversole and his mother, Sarah (Courtesy of the Eversole family)
On April 28, 1942, almost five months after the United States entered the Second World War, U.S. Navy pilot Tom Eversole wrote a letter to his mother, who lived in Pocatello, Idaho. He wrote, “These are difficult times for Mothers everywhere and I am sure that the one message all sons would send their Mothers is ‘Have faith in us. We will do our best, and regardless of the price we may pay, remember that in the ultimate we are striving for those things you spent so many years teaching us. We will not disappoint you.’” Eversole’s actions held true to that sentiment when he gave his life for his country just over a month later. He died fighting in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, a clash that became the first major victory for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific War.
This is part of Tom Eversole’s letter to his mother from April 28, 1942. (Courtesy of the Eversole family)
John Thomas Eversole—Tom to his friends and family—graduated from the Naval Academy in 1938. He served in the surface fleet for two years and then trained as a naval aviator, graduating from flight school in Pensacola in February 1941. The Navy assigned Eversole to Torpedo Squadron 6 (VT-6), which was attached to USS Enterprise (CV 6), an aircraft carrier based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Prior to World War II, pilots did not choose the plane they flew but were randomly assigned to either a fighter, dive bomber, or torpedo bomber upon completion of flight school. Eversole was one of the unlucky ones assigned to the TBD Devastator. These unreliable torpedo planes had a number of troubles, including slow speed and poor maneuverability. Worse yet, the bombers carried the Mark-13 torpedo, a notoriously defective weapon that tended to misfire during prewar ordnance tests. With all of these difficulties, the TBD aviators believed that when a battle happened, they would be unlikely to survive it. Aviation Radioman Third Class Ronald Graetz, a rear seat gunner in VT-6, later recalled, “We knew this was a death squadron. Everybody was satisfied that we were going to lose planes.” Another VT-6 pilot, Ensign Irvin McPherson, recollected, “We had no illusions about those planes of ours. They are good work horses or training planes by modern standards, but their lack of speed and lack of armament made them practically worthless.”
A TBD Devastator drops a torpedo (NHHC)
On the morning of June 4, 1942, three squadrons of torpedo planes—Eversole’s squadron from USS Enterprise and one squadron each from USS Yorktown and USS Hornet—charged into battle. These pilots and rear seat gunners went into the fray knowing it would be their last flight. Lieutenant (junior grade) Jack “Dusty” Kleiss remembered his final goodbye with his good friend Tom Eversole. He wrote, “We shook hands and bid each other ‘good luck.’ It was a gut-wrenching goodbye. I knew this was likely farewell forever. . . . There is nothing quite so dark and terrifying as knowing your friend is about to be killed and being utterly unable to help him.” Without fighter protection, the three TBD squadrons reached the Japanese carrier fleet, dropping low to do what little damage they could. Ensign McPherson of VT-6 recollected, “We were all worried—not scared at this time because we weren’t in the thick of things as yet—but things looked bad. Here we were without protection, alone, and certain to get the full force of the concentrated Jap antiaircraft fire as we approached for the kill."
TBD Devastators attack the Japanese carriers on June 4, 1942 (R.G. Smith, Navy Art)
In the space of just fifty minutes, the three torpedo squadrons lost 37 of 41 planes, 68 of 82 crewmen, and they didn’t score a single hit. With their sacrifice, however, they distracted the Japanese fighter planes so the U.S. Navy’s dive bomber pilots could come in and sink three of the Japanese aircraft carriers in what became known as the famous five minutes of Midway.

Only four TBDs made it back to USS Enterprise. Lieutenant (junior grade) Tom Eversole’s plane was not among them. While no one saw his plane go down, his squadron’s survivors assumed he was shot down by the Japanese. In the aftermath, the Bureau of Naval Personnel declared Eversole missing in action and notified his family. His girlfriend, Betty Ensor, sent a telegram to Eversole’s mother, stating, “Just notified by Navy Washington our darling is missing. You have all my love and sympathy. We must be brave and pray for his return.” Unfortunately, Eversole, like many other World War II aviators lost at sea, would never be found.
Betty Ensor, Tom Eversole’s girlfriend, sent this telegram to his mother after she heard he was missing in action. (Courtesy of the Eversole family)
But Eversole’s sacrifice at Midway would not be forgotten. In early 1943, J.M. Schelling, the Navy’s supervisor of shipbuilding, recommended that a new destroyer escort be named after Eversole. Schelling sent this news to Sarah Eversole, Tom’s mother, and the Navy Department asked her to be the sponsor for this new ship. In December 1942, the Navy commissioned USS Eversole (DE 404), a John C. Butler­-class destroyer escort. On October 28, 1944, at its first major battle, the Japanese submarine I-45 torpedoed USS Eversole near Leyte Gulf. Over fifty crewmembers died when the ship exploded.
This framed photograph of USS Eversole’s commissioning in December 1943 was recently donated to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum from the Eversole family. (photo taken by author)
Recently, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum received artifacts from Tom Eversole’s family, including a framed print from the commissioning ceremony. On the back of this print are the signatures of the crewmembers who survived the ship’s sinking. In the top left corner is the signature of Lieutenant Commander George Marix, USS Eversole’s captain. Over 150 Sailors signed this photograph and gave it to Sarah Eversole, Tom’s mother, as a remembrance of this first ship named after her son. In 1946, the Navy launched a second ship named after him, which served in the Navy until 1973 when it was transferred to the Turkish Navy.
This is the back of the commissioning photograph, with signatures from the survivors of USS Eversole after the ship sank at Leyte Gulf. (photo taken by author)
On this 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, we remember the sacrifice of LTJG Tom Eversole and his fellow torpedo pilots. As dive bomber pilot Dusty Kleiss once said, reminiscing about the legacy of the Battle of Midway, “Our torpedo plane crews should get the real honors. They were flying obsolete planes with the world’s worst torpedoes. . . .Only a handful of all three squadrons survived. These torpedo plane crews kept the Japanese ships in disarray and kept all their fighters at sea level.” As we contemplate the 80th anniversary of this crucial turning point in the war in the Pacific, remember the sacrifice made by these young naval aviators to win this victory.
Letter from Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to Sarah Eversole, confirming Tom’s status as missing in action, July 29, 1942. (Courtesy of the Eversole family)