Destroyer to be named in honor of Native American WWII hero
Stars and Stripes November 16, 2023
A future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer will bear the name of a World War II hero who was the first Native American in the Navy to earn a Medal of Honor.
It will be the service’s second ship named for Cmdr. Ernest Evans, who was killed on Oct. 25, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf near the Philippine Islands, the Navy said in a statement Wednesday. The battle is considered one of the largest naval engagements of World War II.
The service didn’t say when the destroyer, identified as Arleigh Burke Flight III class DDG-141, officially would be christened. It also wasn’t clear if the destroyer already was under construction. The destroyer escort vessel USS Evans, launched in 1955, also was named in his honor, according to the statement. The Navy didn’t say when that ship was decommissioned.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, will be the ship’s sponsor, according to the statement.
“As we honor Cmdr. Evans with this stunning vessel, we also honor the service of Indigenous servicemembers nationwide, past and present,” Haaland said in the statement.
Evans, of Cherokee and Creek heritage, enlisted in the Navy in 1926, entering the U.S. Naval Academy a year later and graduating in 1931.
In 1943, he assumed command of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Johnston. During the ship’s commissioning, he reportedly told the crew and audience that the Johnston was a fighting ship and that he intended “to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.”
About a year later, the Johnston was in the lead of an offensive attack against much larger Japanese forces off the coast of the Philippines. Evans is credited with repeatedly putting the Johnston between the enemy and more vulnerable U.S. ships, saving the lives of thousands of sailors, according to the statement.
The Johnston, with Evans aboard, ultimately was lost. He posthumously was awarded the Medal of Honor and earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, the Navy said.