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Birthdate & Date of Loss

Date of birth: July 20, 1917
Date of death: March 26, 1944
Age: 26

Lucky Bag

1940 Wilson LB.jpg

From the 1940 Lucky Bag:


Hampden-Sydney, Virginia

Spence arrived from the sunny South with two distinctive characteristics: a slow drawl and the determination to make good. Since then, in the face of what seems to have been more than anyone's share of bad luck, neither the drawl nor the determination has altered a whit. Knowing Spence, we have come to know that the reasons for this are twofold: courage and perseverance. We have known and admired his lasting friendship, never-failing good humor, and thoroughness in every task; but, best of all, that quality to which the Navy points with greatest pride: the spirit of "Don't Give Up the Ship."


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.

Memorial Hall Error

From On Eternal Patrol, "He is listed as a Lieutenant in some sources, but was posthumously appointed a LCDR by President Truman on April 1, 1946, to rank from October 17, 1944.” This should be reflected in Memorial Hall.

Class Navigation

Class of 1940
David is one of 89 members of the Class of 1940 in Memorial Hall.
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