“No matter your problem or injury, you take your pills and get back to work.”
The joke, a common refrain for members of the military, was as widely used in the U.S. Navy during World War II as it is now. And so, such words were passed onto Jack Evans of Bend, Oregon, in the sick bay of the USS Tennessee on December 7, 1941. With shrapnel in his legs, Jack once again ascended to his post atop the crow’s nest, where he would stand watch for another 24 hours before being relieved.
Born on December 20, 1923, Jack Evans enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17, after being told by his step-father that it was time to leave home and find work. Like so many of his generation, Jack was no stranger to hard work. The Navy seemed an excellent fit. He was soon assigned to Pearl Harbor and to the Tennessee. On December 7, he stood position on the crow’s nest, his ship nestled between other familiar names like the Oklahoma and Maryland, thinking about church and enjoying the quiet of the day. That was when the attack began, Japanese fighters and dive-bombers coming over the horizon and beginning their attack runs on the ships of the harbor. Jack witnessed other ships being hit and then finally, watched in horror as a Japanese bomb hit turret number two of the Tennessee. Shrapnel blasted upwards and into the crow’s nest, taking him in the legs and knocking him down. A moment later, turret number three was also hit, sending more shrapnel through the air. Jack stood, regained his position and began calling information down to the bridge.
During a brief lull, Jack’s Senior Petty Officer ordered him to sick bay, to have his wounds looked at. There, he received brief treatment but was told to get back to his position. He would earn the Purple Heart for wounds received on that fateful day.
Later, Jack would join the enlisted aviator program, where he would serve on patrol aircraft. Upon receiving his officer commission, he entered the Navy’s fledgling helicopter program and would serve until 1974, having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Today, he makes his home in California.