JAMES S. WILLIS, CDR, USN
James Willis '27
Date of birth: November 11, 1906
Date of death: April 6, 1945
From the 1927 Lucky Bag:
James was lost when USS Bush (DD 529) was sunk by three kamikaze aircraft near Okinawa on April 6, 1945. He had been commanding officer of Destroyer Division 48 since January 1, 1945; Bush was his flagship.
(Note: one record has him being aboard USS Van Valkenburgh (DD 656); but this ship was not so much as damaged during the war and doesn't appear to have been in company with Bush when she was sunk.)
His wife was listed as next of kin. He was also survived by at least one son.
James' son, James Jr., was a member of the Class of 1954 and was lost in an airplane crash in 1961.
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Commander James Sturgis Willis (NSN: 0-61306), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commander, Destroyer Division FORTY-EIGHT (DesDiv 48), in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Okinawa Shima, Ryukyu Islands, on 6 April 1945. Employing his Flagship, the U.S.S. BUSH (DD-529), in the hazardous and vitally important duty of Radar Picket and Fighter Director vessel, Commander Willis skillfully directed the operations conducted by the BUSH and other Naval units assigned to that station, detecting, intercepting, engaging and accounting enemy air raids in that area. Mortally wounded when three enemy suicide planes crashed into and sank his Flagship, Commander Willis, by his brilliant strategy, courage and fortitude contributed materially to the safety and success of United States forces operating within the area protected by units under his command, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
General Orders: Commander in Chief Pacific: Serial 034309 (December 17, 1945)
Division: Destroyer Division 48
Legion of Merit
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit to Commander James Sturgis Willis (NSN: 0-61306), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commander of a Task Group of Destroyer Transports during the attacks on Lae, 4 September 1943, and on Finschhafen, 22 September 1943, and in the landing of reinforcements at Finschhafen, 29 September 1943. In addition to conducting successful landings of initial assault waves at both of these points on New Guinea without loss of a craft or damage to a single ship, Commander Willis led his task group in an effective bombardment of Japanese positions on the island. With courageous leadership and superb military skill, he commanded his Transport Division in difficult operations which reflected the highest degree of training and efficiency, thereby contributing materially to the success of our offensive.
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" (Posthumously) to Commander James Sturgis Willis (NSN: 0-61306), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. MADDOX (DD-622) during operations against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific Area from December 1944 to January 1945. During the carrier-borne strike on Luzon, Formosa, French Indo-China and the China Coast, Commander Willis ably directed his ship in providing early warning of enemy aircraft, identifying and homing returning planes and rescuing personnel from downed planes, thereby contributing materially to the protection of our ships and personnel. His leadership, courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. (Commander Willis is authorized the Combat "V".)
Division: U.S.S. Maddox (DD-622)