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Memorial of World War II hero unveiled

The American flag. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

Stephan Reagan’s quest to honor a Muskogee World War II hero has come to fruition.

On Tuesday, a monument honoring Commander Ernest E. Evans was dedicated during a ceremony at Depot Green.

“Evans had never been honored in his hometown of Muskogee, and that is why the Ernest E. Evans Memorial Fund was established,” Reagan said. “I knew what a great hero he was, and Muskogee needed to honor him. I wanted to make that happen.”

Evans, a 1926 graduate of Central High School, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1931. He eventually rose to the rank of commander and was assigned to the USS Johnston in August of 1943.

On Oct. 25, 1944, the Johnston, along with two destroyers, four destroyer escorts and six escort carriers, encountered a Japanese battlegroup of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 11 destroyers, at the Battle off Samar where it was sunk.

The overpowered US contingent forced the Japanese group to abandon its original attack plans and became know as “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.” A book of the same name was published in 2004, and that is how Reagan became familiar with Evans.

Evans did not survive the sinking of the ship and on Sept. 28, 1945, he posthumously received the Navy Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle. His tactics during the battle are still studied in military classes.

“He’s Muskogee’s own guy, and I wanted him to have a monument,” Reagan said. “He’s a big-time hero. It took me from when I had the idea, three years and nine months to this day.”

The monument has a bronze bust of Evans, sculpted by Paul Moore, wearing his Medal of Honor. In front of him is a model of the Johnston billowing smoke. The bust rests on a black granite block and is inscribed on the front with Evans’ history and on the back is his Medal of Honor citation.

Several military officers were on hand for the dedication, including University of Oklahoma Naval ROTC Commanding Officer Capt. Paul Young, starting his 30th year in the Navy, who spoke to the audience about the courage he learned from hearing about Evans’ heroics.

“In the end, leadership will be required,” he said. “People like Ernest Evans will be required. I’ve often wondered if I had the chance to talk to Commander if we’d had shared the same joys of commanding on the open sea.”

Rob Hagen, whose father Robert served with Evans on the Johnston, fondly remembered the stories his father would tell him about Evans and the Battle off Samar.

“I’m in a unique position one generation removed,” he said. “When my father passed away in 2009, I dedicated to doing what I could to keep telling the story of how the ship and Evans fought. My dad had a tremendous amount of respect for Commander Evans and the amount of trust the two had for each other.”


(c) 2022 the Muskogee Phoenix

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