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Funding sought to honor Oklahoma Medal of Honor recipient

Then-Lt. Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans at the commissioning ceremonies of USS Johnston, Seattle, Oct. 27, 1943. Evans was the Johnston's commanding officer from the ship's commissioning and remained in command until the Johnston was sunk in the Battle off Samar in 1944. Evans was lost with the ship.

U.S. NAVY

By KENTON BROOKS | Muskogee Phoenix | Published: July 15, 2019

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — Stephen Reagan isn't from Muskogee, but he wants U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans to be more than a distant memory to the people here.

That's why Reagan, a retired dentist from Norman, is busy trying to get a memorial for the Muskogee man who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his service during World War II. Evans died during the Battle of Samar on Oct. 25, 1944, at 36 years old while in command of the USS Johnston.

Reagan read the book, "The Last of the Tin Can Sailors," that chronicles that battle. Reagan also read a 2010 story in the Oklahoma Historical Society quarterly publication, "Chronicles of Oklahoma," that details Evans' life, includes enlisting in the Navy in 1926 and rising to the rank of commander in 1942. That only intensified Reagan's desire to have a memorial built.

"I got interested in what a hero he was and wondered how Muskogee had honored him," Reagan said. "I've been to Muskogee a few times and realized there's nothing. I thought, 'Boy, I would like to help Muskogee honor him.' He deserves it. He's a native son of Muskogee who went to (Central) high school there. He needs to be honored."

Reagan has made trips to Muskogee to meet with people and generate interest in Evans. His next scheduled visit is July 23 to talk to the Exchange Club of Muskogee. He's already met with former Mayor Bob Coburn and Victor Lezama of The Barracks.

Reagan already has a bust, currently in clay and yet to be cast, designed by internationally-known sculptor Paul Moore of Oklahoma. Moore sculpted the Land Run Monument in Oklahoma City.

"I would like to mount the bust on a granite pedestal in a nice public place of display," Reagan said. "I'm thinking about an outdoor site. (Evans) is an inspiration to all kinds of people. What a character to look up to for Muskogee and that area."

According to information from the Naval History and Heritage Command, Evans, half Cherokee and one-quarter Creek, received numerous awards for his service in the Navy, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart to name a few.

"He had a lot of energy and drive in his life and came from nothing," he said. "He knew the value of work and made something out of himself when he had nothing. Most of the people I've talked to in Muskogee don't know who he is or don't know his name. There's nobody left in his family."

Besides visiting Exchange Club later this month, Reagan will make more trips to Muskogee in hopes of raising money to make the memorial a reality. He says the bust will cost $34,000.

"I've talked to some outside sources, which could help us, but they're not going to do anything if Muskogee's not in the game," he said. "This is important for civic pride in Muskogee. It's something Muskogee would really be proud of because this guy is no ordinary hero. He was a pretty fantastic guy.

"I feel a little bit sense of urgency because it's the 75th anniversary of the big naval battled when he died. I would like to make some announcement near that date."

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