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.

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.

October 1939

Ensign, USS Fred Talbott

June 1940

Ensign, USS Fred Talbott

November 1940

Ensign, under instruction, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida

Others at this command:

April 1941

Ensign, Torpedo Squadron (VT) 2, USS Lexington

Others at this command:

Others at or embarked at USS Lexington:

LT Louis Shane, Jr. '26 (USS Lexington)
LT Donald Lovelace '28 (Scouting Squadron (VS) 2)
LT Weldon Hamilton '28 (Bombing Squadron (VB) 2)
LT Charles Crommelin '31 (Fighting Squadron (VF) 2)
LTjg Robert Fair '33 (USS Lexington)
LTjg Joel Davis, Jr. '35 (Bombing Squadron (VB) 2)
LTjg John Hunter '36 (Scouting Squadron (VS) 2)
LTjg Thomas Edwards, Jr. '37 (Scouting Squadron (VS) 2)
ENS Roy Hale, Jr. '38 (Scouting Squadron (VS) 2)
ENS Harry Bass '38 (Bombing Squadron (VB) 2)
ENS Edward Price '39 (USS Lexington)
ENS Allan Wussow '39 (USS Lexington)
ENS Edward Seiler, Jr. '39 (USS Lexington)
ENS Willard Sampson '40 (USS Lexington)

Class of 1938

Leonard is one of 72 members of the Class of 1938 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.