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Navy History & Heritage Leader Recounts WWII Heroism of Native American Navy Commander

By NSWC Dahlgren Corporate Communications Division | Nov. 20, 2017

VIRGINIA BEACH, Nov 17, 2017 – Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA) Dam Neck celebrated National American Indian Heritage month on Nov. 15 by inviting Rear Adm. (Ret.) Samuel Cox, now the Director of the Navy History and Heritage Command, to talk about Native American Medal of Honor recipient, Cmdr. Ernest Evans, who served in World War II as the commanding officer of USS Johnston (DD 557).

Evans was one-half Cherokee and one-quarter Creek and experienced prejudice during his times growing up in Oklahoma and as a Midshipman with the Naval Academy class of 1931. “He was the third Native American Midshipman and experienced the prejudice common in the times,” said Cox. “Native Americans actually have the highest per capita service rate in the history of the American armed forces.”

Despite that, Evans was known for his calm demeanor and unflappable leadership. “If you disappointed him, you knew it,” said Cox. “That was worse than being screamed at.” Evans was also known for his desire to get his ship as close to shore as possible to provide naval gunfire support to Marines ashore and his desire to engage the enemy despite long odds. That’s what happened the morning of Oct. 25, 1944, after an American patrol plane sighted a Japanese Task Force steaming through the unguarded San Bernardino Strait and toward the island of Samar in the Philippines. The far larger and more capable Japanese task force was heading toward a much smaller American group known as “Taffy 3”, after the bulk of the U.S. Fleet had been lured away by a Japanese decoy fleet to the north. Taffy 3 had been designed to protect slow convoys from submarine attack had been repurposed to attack ground targets, and were unprepared to face such a large force in a gun battle.

After shooting commenced, Evans’ USS Johnston steamed through smoke to take on the Japanese fleet. Damage was done of both sides but USS Johnston was gravely damaged and Evans was seriously wounded. Evans left the bridge and commanded the ship from the fantail, calling orders down the hatch where sailors were turning her rudder by hand. He was stripped to the waist and covered in blood with his left hand wrapped in a handkerchief.  Evans eventually gave the order abandon ship and was never seen again.

“A Japanese destroyer captain saluted as USS Johnston sank,” said Cox. Evans was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and his ship received six battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for service in World War II

As the senior naval intelligence community leader, commanding the Office of Naval Intelligence and the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office when he retired in 2013, Cox said: “Other kids had sports heroes. Mine was Cmdr. Ernest Evans.”

 

For an article that Cox wrote about Cmdr. Evans, see http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/swmag/Pages /Surface-Warrior.aspx.