Medal of Honor

Usually the word, ‘Posthumously’, goes hand in hand with it. This means the recipient didn’t make it back alive. I held a medal of honor once. A Navajo code talker let me hold his at the ceremony the Marines held near the Sepulveda basin Marine base for the surviving talkers. It was really something. President Truman, when he gave out the award, would lean forward and whisper to┬áthe man receiving it, “I would rather have such an honor then be President!” He meant it too. He fought in WW1 as an artillery man. Truman knew what war was really like…My Uncle Curly told me this story, so, it’s from him to me. I wasn’t close to being in the same league as these men, but, I hate seeing the battles they fought and the courage they showed doing their duties just fade away. This particular story of a Medal of Honor winner is about one Naval Captain, part Cherokee, part Creek, all American, named Ernest E. Evans…My Uncle met him at the ceremony where he took over the command of the D.E. Johnson. He was its only skipper. D.E. means in Naval terms, DESTROYER ESCORT. Not as big as a regular Destroyer, it had one five inch gun, .40 Bofers, .50 cal machine guns, and, its best weapons, torpedos. Tubes mounted on the fore deck. Not much in the way of armor. Its main defense was speed and maneuverability. Prior to its last fight, the Captain and crew had already received numerous battle awards. I can’t remember them all, but a plaque I saw once in a book had a long list. The Johnson’s last fight was really something. I’ll try and do my Uncle Curly’s telling of its last action justice. He was a real Navy man. I’ve only read about such things. I heard this story while sitting in the shade of the sixteen inch guns of the Battleship New Jersey as it underwent refit, prior to its last action off the coast of Viet Nam…”It was during the largest Naval action in the history of the world. The ‘Battle of Leyte Gulf’. The Japanese Imperial Navy vs The U.S. Navy. This battle was actually over three fronts, but I’m telling you about Evans and the crew of the U.S.S. Johnston and what went down with task unit, Taffy 3. There were other ships in the battle, sure, but Evans and his boys showed the Japs what a small ship could do when the chips were down and it was time to do or die. Now, the enemy had illegal sized Battleships, way larger then ours. Not only in size, but also in armament. 18 inch main guns vs our largest at 16. Longer, wider, and faster, dreadnoughts to contend with. Too bad Taffy 3 didn’t have ONE to protect her. Just four D.E.’s to protect six escort carriers. Smaller then full sized carriers, they were called, ‘Kaiser coffins’, by the men who served on them. Against Taffy 3? Several Japanese Battleships, Heavy Cruisers, Light Cruisers and ten full sized Destroyers. Their mission was to wipe out the landing crafts of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then, retreat to help out the other actions happening at the same time in other areas off the Phillipines. As the Jap fleet hove into sight, Evans and his crew hit 35 knots, right for the entire fleet. (NOTE: I have a book written by a commanding Japanese officer on this battle. Quite illuminating) Launching a spread of torpedos at the closest Heavy Cruiser, the Johnston then went so close to one of the Battleships, they were UNDER its big guns. So small, the guns couldn’t depress that low. The gun crews of the Johnston pumped five inch fire point blank into the superstructure, along with every gun they had, killing officers and gun crews the entire length of the giant ship, then, healing right, they punched it at maximum power away, laying a smoke screen for the small carriers it was their duty to protect. Now the big guns of the Jap battleship roared for some payback. Splashes from near misses went over a hundred foot high bracketing the Johnston, making it disappear from the cascading waterfalls of water. The Johnston came out of the water curtain, firing back with its single five incher, barking defiance. Then its luck ran out. Shells slamed into the small ship, knocking it around like a puppy hit by a Mack truck. Half the crew died at their posts instantly. Evans shirt and some of his fingers were blown off. He stayed at the helm. Coming around as the other D.E.’s took up the fight, the captain of the U.S.S. Hoel, said Evans nodded at him, then followed them back in. His ship in ruins and only able to make fifteen knots, Evans and his boys did the only thing they could do, take point blank enemy fire away from the other ships, still able to fight. And take it they did. The captain was blown off the bridge, along with everyone else next to him, cartwheeling through the air. Some of the men were vaporized instantly. Now, dead in the water, sinking by its bow, a Japanese Destroyer swept in to finish the smoking hulk off. Unbelievably, the gun crew of the five incher, were still game. Firing back, then reloading so fast the Jap commanders thought we had some new type five inch auto loader, the crew pumped shells into its attacker, hitting it point blank from its bow to its stern. Then the over heated gun blew its crew apart. As another Jap Cruiser swept by, the ships captain, looking down on the carnage as the little ship washed its dead crew with water before going down, ordered his crew to hold their fire and to stand at attention and salute the brave enemy. Something almost unheard of in that war!”…That’s the story my Uncle told me. So that’s how I retell it…

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