William R. Evans was a torpedo-bomber pilot in Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8). That squadron operated from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in World War II. Evans and all but one of his squadron mates were killed in action in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.
Bill Evans and Charles Gillispie were roommates in the Wesleyan University Class of 1940. On December 2, 2007, Charles discussed his friendship with Dan Sachs and the creation of the Sachs Scholarship. Charles also remembered Bill Evans.
Acclaimed film director John Ford made a special short memorial film, Torpedo Squadron 8, for the families of members of Torpedo Squadron 8. Only thirty copies of the film,which was never shown publicly, were developed. The film has been available in the U.S. National Archives. Now it is also accessible on YouTube and the Internet Archive. Ford made this film in conjunction with making his widely viewed film, The Battle of Midway (1942).
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to William Robinson Evans, Jr. (0-098626), Ensign, U.S. Navy (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane of Torpedo Squadron EIGHT (VT-8), embarked from the U.S.S. HORNET (CV-8), during the “Air Battle of Midway,” against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. Grimly aware of the hazardous consequences of flying without fighter protection, and with insufficient fuel to return to his carrier, Ensign Evans resolutely, and with no thought of his own life, delivered an effective torpedo attack against violent assaults of enemy Japanese aircraft fire. His courageous action, carried out with a gallant spirit of self-sacrifice and a conscientious devotion to the fulfillment of his mission, was a determining factor in the defeat of the enemy forces and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Born: August 11, 1918 at Indianapolis, Indiana
Home Town: Indianapolis, Indiana
The Presidential Unit Citation similarly described the action.
The August 31, 1942 issue of Life Magazine featured as its cover story Ensign George Gay’s account of Torpedo Squadron 8. Gay was the only pilot who survived the squadron’s mission at Midway. This article includes an excerpt from a letter that Bill Evans wrote on December 7, 1941, the evening of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Habour.
A letter that Bill Evans wrote in April, 1942 appears in the Fetridge, William Harrison, ed., The Navy Reader (Indianapolis, New York, The Bobbs-Merrill company, 1943) pp. 36-38, under the title, “Letter from a Navy Pilot.”
Alvin B. Kernan’s recent book, The unknown Battle of Midway: the destruction of the American torpedo squadrons (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) considers Torpedo Squadron 8. This book generated many reviews, some detailed and some highly critical.
The Douglas TBD-1A ‘Devastator’ that Bill Evans flew has recently been identified.
Robert J. Mrazek, a distinguished writer of military fiction, has a book on Torpedo Squadron 8 forthcoming this spring.
Dan Sachs’ words included in the video above are from a letter excerpted in Matt Nimetz’s memorial, “Sachs Legacy Endures, Inspires,” a part of the booklet Celebrating 35 Years of the Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship (May 30, 2004).