Bill Evans and Torpedo Squadron 8

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).

Torpedo Squadron 8 received the Presidential Unit Citation on April 5, 1943. Its members were also awarded the Navy Cross. The citation for Bill Evans’ award states:

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).

9 thoughts on “Bill Evans and Torpedo Squadron 8”

  1. William R. Evans was my father’s cousin. He was a beautiful writer and a beloved member of a large Quaker family. His cousin Teddy was killed in the Battle of the Buldge. At a memorial in Indianapolis on the 5oth anniversary of the Battle of Midway a speech was given including some excerpts from his letters. I still remember the silent tears that would come to my grandmother’s eyes whenever Bill or Teddy were mentioned. I’m not sure what this blog is, but you are right to remember the brave sacrifice of this true American hero.

    1. To Kristin Oren: Your relative’s writings have moved me much. Is there any way to obtain a transcript of William Evans’ journal and poetry?


      Jim Woychuk

  2. Robert J. Mrazek’s book was published in Dec. 2008 and titled “A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight”. A complete story of the Squadron, it highlights my Uncle Bill, “The Squire”, and his poignant writings. Thank you for this blog which helps keep the memory of these young men alive. For those interested, Bill’s words are memorialized on a WWII monument located in The American Legion Mall (a park, not a shopping center)in downtown Indianapolis.

  3. Robert J. Mrazek’s book, “A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight”, was reviewed in The Washington Post of February 3, 2009. It is interesting to note that the front cover shows four Grumman TBF Avengers (known as TBM if manufactured by Eastern Aircraft of Trenton, NJ, a division of General Motors.) Of course, Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) flew the Douglas TBD Devastator at the Battle of Midway.

    1. Actually there were 6 TBF Avengers flown by 5 officers and one enlisted pilot of VT 8 the morning of June 4 1944. They were the first to strike at the Japenese fleet during the Battle Of Midway. The story is of how the squadron carried the first issued to any squadron into battle.

  4. I grew up in West Virginia. I wanted to be a Naval Aviator. I looked up to the men of Torpedo Squadron 8. They were my heroes then and they still are decades later.

    I watched the short film. They were so young. They gave their all for their country. But I grow old because men like “The Squire” William Evans didn’t not. Julie, I read some of your uncle’s poetry. I would have enjoyed his company immensely. The warrior feels as acutely as anyone, perhaps more so because we know just how impermanent and fleeting life can be when we are in harm’s way!

    Just as I will always see my late Uncle Curtis who was killed in action during the “Battle of the Bulge” as a young man of 20, we will always see the brave young aviators of Torpedo Squadron 8 as young men. In our minds they will never age.

    SGT Studdard, USAR

  5. Bill Evans was my father’s cousin as well. My dad, Robert Cornelius (his mother was Bill”s mother’s sister), was younger, and told of taking about flying with Bill during family get-togethers before the. war. My dad had just earned his pilot’s license when the war started, and enlisted with the U.S.A.A.C. very shortly thereafter, and flew for the Army throughout the war.

    I recall visiting Bill’s parents’ home in the 60s, and looking at the shrine they had in their living room, with a model of the Hornet, a photo of Bill, and his Navy Cross.

    In honor of Bill, June 4 was always and remains a day of remembrance in our family.

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