Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TFH 11/23: LTJG Eugene Ralph Hanks, USNR

In late November 1943, coincidental with the attack on Tarawa, American forces also attacked and seized Makin Atoll elsewhere in the Gilbert Islands. Flying off of the USS Enterprise (CV-6), fighter squadron VF-16 supported the landings and defended the force against attacking Japanese aircraft.

On this day in 1943, one Naval Aviator led his four-plane flight into aerial combat against a superior force and shot down five or six enemy aircraft himself. Lieutenant Junior Grade Eugene Ralph Hanks, for his heroism to include five straight days - not just on November 23, 1943 - was decorated with our Nation's second highest honor: the Navy Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Eugene Ralph Hanks, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron SIXTEEN (VF-16), attached to the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE [see my note below] (CV-6), during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Areas from 19 to 24 November 1943. Gallantly leading his four-plane combat team as part of a twelve plane air patrol intercepting a strong force of hostile aircraft on 23 November Lieutenant Hanks fought his plane boldly and with relentless determination and, although outnumbered nearly two to one, personally shot down five Japanese planes and probably another of the seventeen destroyed during the bitter engagement. Again vastly outnumbered the following day, he continued his bold tactics and, despite his disadvantageous position, directed a brilliantly executed attack to destroy ten hostile fighters and two bombers. By his outstanding ability as a leader and an airman, Lieutenant Hanks contributed materially to the success of our aerial operations in the Pacific war area, and his valiant devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

Blogger's note: Military Times' Hall of Valor lists LTJG Hanks' ship as the USS Yorktown with an incorrect hull number of "6"; Yorktown was CV-5 and furthermore was sunk at the Battle of Midway on June 7, 1942. I have made the correction above because I believe it to be accurate. Whether or not Hanks' Navy Cross actual printed citation included the mistake I don't know.

Thanks to all of our brave Naval Aviators, past and present - and a very happy Thanksgiving to those who are currently deployed and separated from their families!

If you're ever in Pensacola, I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Naval Aviation too!


  1. Lt(jg) Ralph Hanks is a relative of mine. (Grandmothers cousin)I never met him though. But I just wanted to let you know that Lt(jg) Hanks and VF-16 (Pistol Packin' Airdales)flew off the U.S.S. Lexington II (not Enterprise) in Nov. 43. I got this info from a book called "Aces Against Japan, The American Aces Speak"(chapter entitled "The Hollywood Way" written by Eric Hammel and was also mentioned in another book "Hellcat Aces of World War 2" by Barret Tillman. I found and read "Aces Against Japan" on line if you are interested in reading.

  2. That actually makes sense, as the practice at the time was to number squadrons identical to their ship, hence "VF-16" would have been on the new Lady Lex, CV-16.

    Official US Navy photos at the following link seem to confirm:

    In any case, thanks much for the input, and hope you come back!

  3. Tcarman11:10 PM

    Allan- Realize this is an old post, but curt1966 is correct as you confirmed. VF-16 flew off Lexington CV-16 and Lt Hanks became an Ace on Nov 23' 1943. My father in law was aboard as part of the Naval Aviation Photographic unit and interviewed and photographed Lt Hanks that day as recorded in his diary in my possession. Best regards.



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