From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Leonard Thornhill '38

Date of birth: August 17, 1915

Date of death: May 8, 1942

Age: 26

Lucky Bag

From the 1938 Lucky Bag:


Leonard was lost when his Douglas TBD Devastator ran out of fuel while returning from an attack on a Japanese aircraft carrier on May 8, 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea. He was flying with Torpedo Squadron (VT) 2 from USS Lexington (CV 2).

His mother was listed as next of kin. Leonard has a memory marker in Alabama.


From naval aviation historian Richard Leonard via email on February 9, 2018:

  • NAS Pensacola attached for HTA flight training, 8/26/1940
  • NAS Pensacola designated NA # 7091, 1/30/1941
  • Date of rank LTJG from 1 Jul 1941 USN Register, 6/2/1941
  • VT-2 USS Lexington (CV-2) NX MIA BNR, 5/8/1942

Thornhill and his crew were seen to get in their raft after ditching from fuel exhaustion, but subsequent searches never found them.

Battle of the Coral Sea

On the first day of the battle, May 7, 1942, from Wikipedia:

At 1135, VT-2 encountered the light carrier Japanese aircraft carrier Shōhō and immediately launched a well coordinated attack in conjunction with Bombing Squadron (VB) 2. While VB-2 took some of the fighter pressure off the torpedo bombers, Thornhill and his comrades split formation and attacked the carrier from both directions astern. All 12 planes made their runs and drops successfully and without loss to themselves. The "Devastators" claimed nine hits from 12 drops, one of which was credited to Lt. (jg.) Thornhill. The coordinated attacks of VT-2 and VB-2 sent Shōhō to the bottom—the first enemy carrier sunk by American forces in World War II.

On the second day of the battle, May 8, 1942, from Wikipedia:

The following day, during the second phase of the Battle of the Coral Sea, Thornhill went aloft with VT-2 at 0910 in search of the two remaining Japanese carriers, Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku and Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku. After failing to encounter the enemy ships at their supposed location, Thornhill and his squadron mates initiated a "box search" to find their quarry. Sometime after 1100, they found their target, fleet carrier Shokaku, At 1142, VT-2 commenced its attack; and the carrier began a long, slow turn to the right which allowed each TBD-1 to make its "run without splitting across the stern." The attack ended just eight minutes later, and VT-2 began the flight home claiming five hits on Shokaku—all of which proved later to be wishful thinking. Only the dive bombers succeeded in damaging the enemy carrier.

Navy Cross

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Leonard Wilson Thornhill (NSN: 0-81121), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Squadron TWO (VT-2), attached to the U.S.S. LEXINGTON (CV-2), in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Air Battle of the Coral Sea on 7 May 1942. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Thornhill pressed home an attack against an enemy Japanese aircraft carrier to within the perilously short range of a few hundred yards of his target. By complete disregard for his own personal safety and resolute purpose in carrying out his mission, he was able to score a hit on the enemy carrier, thereby contributing to the destruction of that vessel and to the success of our forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea. His conduct on this occasion was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander in Chief Pacific: Serial 14 (June 28, 1942)
Action Date: 7-May-42
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Junior Grade
Company: Torpedo Squadron 2 (VT-2)
Division: U.S.S. Lexington (CV-2)


USS Thornhill (DE 195) was named for Leonard; the ship was sponsored by his mother.

Class of 1938

Leonard is one of 71 members of the Class of 1938 on Virtual Memorial Hall.