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)

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