ERNEST E. EVANS, CDR, USN
Ernest Evans '31
Date of birth: August 13, 1908
Date of death: October 25, 1944
From the 1931 Lucky Bag:
Ernest Edwin Evans, a half-Cherokee Indian and one-quarter-Creek Indian, was born on 13 August 1908 in Pawnee, Oklahoma. He graduated from Central High School in Muskegee, Oklahoma and on 29 May 1926 enlisted in the US Navy. After a year's service as an enlisted man, he was appointed to the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, from the Navy at large and entered as a Midshipman on 29 June 1927. He graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science and commissioned Ensign in the US Navy on 4 June 1931, and by subsequent promotion attained the rank of Commander to date from 1 November 1942.
After graduation from the Naval Academy in June 1931, he was assigned to the Naval Air Station, San Diego, California, for a year, and thereafter, until 7 August 1933, served consecutively in USS Colorado, USS Roper and USS Rathburne. After service at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, he joined the USS Pensacola, and six months later became Aviation Gunnery Observer of that cruiser's Scouting Squadron NINE. He served in that capacity until 15 April 1937, then continued sea duty for four years, serving successively in the USS Chaumont, USS Cahokia and USS Black Hawk.
On 9 August 1941, he was assigned to the destroyer Alden, and was serving on her in the East Indies when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year. He became commanding officer of Alden on 14 March 1942, and held that position until 7 July 1943. While serving on Alden he participated in operations in and around Australia, New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies.
In mid-1943 Evans was then ordered to duty in charge of fitting out the Fletcher-class destroyer Johnston at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation in Seattle, Washington. Commander Evans assumed command of Johnston at her commissioning on 27 October 1943. He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in action against a Japanese submarine on May 16, 1944.
In the Battle off Samar, a part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Evans fought his ship gallantly until it was sunk on October 25, 1944, by a Japanese force that was vastly superior in number, firepower, and armor. Johnston, together with the destroyers Hoel and Heermann, four destroyer escorts and six escort carriers (CVEs) formed the task unit 77.4.3, known as Taffy 3. This group, together with planes from Taffy 2 (TU 77.4.2), ultimately forced a Japanese battlegroup consisting of several battleships, heavy cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers to abort its original mission to attack the landing beaches at Leyte under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and retreat.
When the Japanese fleet during the Battle off Samar was first sighted, Evans did not hesitate. He ordered his helm sharp to port and he led his destroyer out of the task unit's circular antiaircraft disposition in favor of charging the enemy alone to make a torpedo attack. Some claim that Evans told his crew over the ship's intercom: "A large Japanese fleet has been contacted. They are fifteen miles away and headed in our direction. They are believed to have four battleships, eight cruisers, and a number of destroyers. This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can." However, contemporaneous sources credit the latter part of this dramatic announcement to LCDR Robert W. Copeland of the Samuel B. Roberts, who charged in with Evans on a subsequent torpedo run.
The fate of the Johnston's captain was never conclusively established, and remains the subject of continuing conjecture among the ship's survivors. Some claim that he was hit by Japanese naval shellfire; others that he was able to jump into a damaged motor whaleboat. What is known is that he was seriously wounded during the battle; that he lived long enough to give the abandon ship order; and that he was not among those rescued. Evans was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his material contribution to the decisive victory won in Leyte Gulf and shared in the Presidential Unit Citation awarded his group for this action in which he gave his life.
His wife was listed as next of kin.
Medal of Honor
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Commander Ernest Edwin Evans (NSN: 0-70042), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. JOHNSTON (DD-557) in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Commander Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the JOHNSTON came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, out-shooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the JOHNSTON, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after three hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Commander Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him.
He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V," for "meritorious achievement as Commanding Officer of the USS Johnston in action against an enemy Japanese submarine on May 16, 1944..." The citation further states:
Participating in a search and attack mission, Commander Evans skillfully maneuvered his ship into position to gain sound contact and delivered a vigorous depth-charge attack. Quickly regaining contact, he again dropped his depth charges which resulted in a heavy underwater ripple explosion heard five minutes after the last detonation with the appearance later of debris and a heavy oil slick in the vicinity as evidence of the probable sinking of the enemy submarine. Commander Evans' persistent tactics and his effective coordination with the assisting ships of the search and attack group were contributing factors in the success of a vital mission and in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service."
USS Evans (DE 1023) was named for Ernest; the ship was sponsored by his sister.