Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA) Dam Neck celebrated National American Indian Heritage month on November 15, 2017 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).
November 15, 2017 - Rear Adm. (Ret.) Samuel Cox, Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, recently talked about his hero, Medal of Honor recipient Cmdr. Ernest Evans, at Combat Direction Systems Activity Dam Neck. The presentation was in honor of National American Indian Heritage Month. Evans was half-Cherokee and one-quarter Creek Indian and commanded USS Johnston (DD 557) in the Battle off Samar in World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Joe Navratil, NSWC)
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 October 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 by both sides, but the 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 to 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. “Other kids had sports heroes. Mine was Cmdr. Ernest Evans,” said Cox.
By U.S. Navy Joe Navratil, NSWC
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