From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

David Wilson '40

Date of birth: July 20, 1917

Date of death: March 26, 1944

Age: 26

Lucky Bag

From the 1940 Lucky Bag:


Spence was lost when USS Tullibee (SS 284) was sunk by her own torpedo during an attack on a Japanese convoy near the Palau Islands on March 26, 1944.

His wife was listed as next of kin.


From History of Class of 1940:

Spence first reported to USS PENNSYLVANIA and was on board at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. When he came up on deck as the attack began, he noticed that the flag was not flying at the stern as it should have been, so he quickly raised the flag, believing that the fleet flagship should be showing the colors. Being in dry dock, PENNSYLVANIA suffered less damage than the other battleships, but nevertheless was sent back to the U.S. for repairs. Shortly afterwards, Spence was ordered to the fitting out and commissioning of a new destroyer at Bath, Maine, USS O'BANNON. While there, he and Harriet Cecil Train were married in Brunswick, Maine, on 23 April 1942.

O'BANNON proceeded to the Pacific in the fall of 1942, and not long after arriving in the war zone, Spence was transferred to USS MACKINAC. His time in MACKINAC was also cut short by orders to submarine school, from which he graduated in April, 1943.

Out of sub school, his first orders were to USS TULLIBEE in the Pacific. He completed one patrol with TULLIBEE, but on the second patrol (fourth for TULLIBEE), the submarine and all but one lone survivor were lost to enemy action. Assigned an area north of Palau, TULLIBEE left Midway on 14 March 1944, and according to the account of GM2 C. W. Kuykendall, intercepted a Japanese convoy on the night of 26 March. TULLIBEE had solved the convoy's course and speed, but held fire to come closer to see better through the squally weather. The convoy escorts detected the sub and dropped 15 to 20 depth charges, but TULLIBEE survived and closed to 3000 yards and fired two bow tubes, even though unable to see the target clearly. A minute or two later, a terrific concussion shook the boat. Kuykendall, who was on the bridge, soon found himself in the water, to be picked up the next morning by a Japanese escort, and sent to a POW camp. Kuykendall said that he was sure that TULLIBEE was hit by one of its own torpedoes that made a circular run; he later learned that the other torpedo hit a large transport in the convoy and sunk it. Failing to return on schedule, TULLIBEE was presumed lost on 15 May 1944.

On 15 December 1945, Spence was declared killed in action, and posthumously appointed a LCDR by President Truman on 1 April 1946, to rank from 17 October 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, (for service in O'BANNON), American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.

Spence is survived by his wife, Toto (Cecil Train Wilson), who lives in Washington, 3140 Wisconsin Avenue, No. 108, Washington, D.C. 20016.

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

November 1940

Ensign, USS Pennsylvania

Others at this command:

April 1941

Ensign, USS Pennsylvania

Others at this command:

Class of 1940

David is one of 91 members of the Class of 1940 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of the alumni in Memorial Hall.