World War II Coast Guard Veteran Jim Evans
In 2016, I was speaking at a Kansas City area “Living History” event on the sinking of World War II troopship Dorchester, when I ran into an eyewitness of World War II history.
Of the many memories of those days on the Outer Banks, the one that he recalled best was how many times he saw the night sky light up from the explosions of merchant vessels attacked off the coast by Nazi U-boats.
Seaman Evans was talented and eager serve his country, so he signed up for every Coast Guard training course offered including meteorology classes in Lakehurst, New Jersey. He took added courses at the Weather Bureau School of Meteorology in Atlanta learning how to properly observe, collect, record and analyze meteorological data
Upon completion of his meteorology courses, Petty Officer Evans returned to the Outer Banks and began honing his craft as an aerographer for the Kill Devil Hills weather station. For nearly eight months, he reported weather by night and played baseball by day.
In April 1943, Jim was assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Northland in the famed Greenland Patrol. He reported to Northland, then docked in Boston, excited to use his meteorology skills, but he soon discovered that the cutter had no weather equipment.
Recognizing his abilities, Northland’s command asked him if he knew anything about photography and he soon became the ship’s photographer. In addition to his daily duties, Jim took numerous pictures of the crew, posted them in common areas and made copies for any sailor that wanted one.
Jim sailed on three missions on board Northland, which escorted vessels to Greenland twice, and then to Iceland on his final mission. In January 1947, his service commitment came to an end and he returned to Saint Louis. He married in 1948 and began to raise a family. He built a career working for Western Auto Company and retired in 1989.
In my first visit with Jim, his wife Ernie, and their daughter Barbara, it was obvious they really cared about Jim’s Coast Guard career.
A few months later, I had learned that a friend I knew at Coast Guard Headquarters had taken command of the current Coast Guard Cutter Northland. After a quick email to my friend, a plan took shape to honor Jim on board the Northland at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Virginia.
By the time everything came together, Jim had a veritable entourage including Ernie, daughters Barbara Nichols and Kathy G’Sell, and his sister-in-law Shirley Dippel. Thanks to the hard work of my friend Commander Marc Brandt, his crew and Coast Guard staff, Jim and his family were honored first on board Northland and then at a cutterman call at the Base Portsmouth Support Center.
After the event, Jim’s daughters Kathy and Barbara wrote a tribute to the organizers:
"Today was a day our family will always remember. Dad and our family were escorted by Dr. Bill Thiesen (Coast Guard Historian), Command Master Chief Bill Princiotta and Public Affairs Officer Littlejohn from our hotel to the Coast Guard base where we were welcomed aboard the new Northland.
Dad was presented with a shadow box that contained a flag that flew over the ship earlier in the year, a photo of the ship and handwritten notes from the commander and many of the crew. He spent an hour in the ward room visiting with the crew and sharing his photo albums from his time on the Northland. Stories were told, questions asked and laughs shared.
As we were leaving the ship, Captain Marc Brandt presented us with a hat and a challenge coin. We went to the Wheel House for a lunch with other officers, sharing more stories, experiences and laughter.
Finally, Master Chief Princiotta presented Dad with his personal challenge coin–a perfect ending to a perfect day."
"The truly special moment for me came when Dad was leaving the ship and started down the gangplank. He stopped, paused, then turned and saluted the flag, something he said they did every time they left the ship. I never asked what he thought at that moment, but for me watching him standing there with the sun shining behind him, I was choked up. In my mind I saw Dad as a young man again making that final salute and saying a final farewell to his time in the Coast Guard. The whole day was about Dad getting a moment of honor for something he did over 70 years ago. Many Coast Guard crewmen came up to shake his hand and thank him or ask a question about how things have changed since the time he served. As we drove away, we passed the marque that welcomed Dad to base, an incredible moment. I think we all felt the weight of it as we scrambled out to take a picture of that marque. We all just felt so proud of Dad and what he did when he made the decision to sign up to join the Coast Guard. This was a big day for our family. Watching as our father had the incredible opportunity to return to his Coast Guard roots was a once in a lifetime experience.”
In 2020, I was able to honor Jim at a World War II 75thanniversary event ... Jim and Ernie were still going strong.
Author's Note: Barbara Nichols and Kathy G’Sell, daughters of Coast Guard veteran Jim Evans, provided information and input in the article.
Editor's Note: Minor editing by USA Patriotism! without impacting the article's message.