Ernest E. Evans
On 27 October 1943, a short, barrel-chested, full-blooded Cherokee Indian in a Navy lieutenant commander's uniform stepped to a podium in a Seattle shipyard. Ernest E. Evans was about to assume command of a brand new Fletcher-class destroyer—USS Johnston (DD-557)—and before him were her crew and the assembled guests for her commissioning ceremony. He told the crowd he had been serving in an old, World War I-vintage destroyer when World War II broke out. His ship had been forced to beat an ignominious retreat out of the Java Sea to escape annihilation. "This is going to be a fighting ship,” he said, motioning toward the bunting-draped destroyer, “I intend to go 'in harm"s way,’ and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.” He then added in a firm, convincing voice, “I will never again retreat from an enemy force.”
Almost a year to the day from that moment, Evans got his chance to prove that he meant what he said. At the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Johnston and a handful of other destroyers and destroyer escorts found themselves the only units standing between vulnerable American troops on the landing beach and an oncoming formidable Japanese force of cruisers and battleships. Joined by the other U.S. ships and some aircraft (armed with ordnance suitable for land targets but no match for large warships), Evans turned his ship “in harm’s way” and charged headlong at the enemy armada.
This seemingly futile charge is one of the great moments in U.S. naval history, rarely equaled, never exceeded. As they charged in, the small U.S. ships were chewed to pieces by the large-caliber enemy guns but continued in so close that several were below the depression angle of the Japanese guns. Pilots with no ordnance remaining attacked anyway. Late in the battle, Johnston was seen still firing away despite horrific damage, her captain—bandaged and bloody, his uniform in shreds—conning her from the fantail because her bridge had been utterly destroyed.
Confused by the Americans’ audacious actions, the Japanese force eventually turned back, but not before sinking several of the dauntless destroyers. Johnston was among those ships lost. Evans and 185 others perished, as well. But as an enemy ship passed close by the spot where Johnston had gone down, survivors in the water saw, to their dismay, a Japanese officer standing at attention on one of the bridge wings . . . saluting.
Oceanographic Development Squadron Eight (VXN-8) was established as Air Development Squadron Eight (VX-8) on 1 July 1967 at Naval Air Training Center Patuxent River, Maryland. Equipped with NC-121J/K long-range research aircraft, the squadron was assigned roles related to oceanographic survey.
VX-8 traced its origins to the Atlantic Fleet’s Airborne Early Warning Training Unit, which was in 1951 assigned an ongoing airborne magnetic survey program—Project Magnet—to map the earth’s magnetic variation. A P2V Neptune, succeeded by an R5D Skymaster, carried out the role until 1958, when a WV-2 (EC-121K) was acquired for the role. The WV-2 was painted in the distinctive white-with-red-trim scheme—and cartoon character—that made the project aircraft recognizable worldwide as it carried out its missions.
Two additional ongoing projects were assigned to the unit beginning in 1962. Project Birdseye mapped polar ice for the Naval Oceanographic Office using EC-121K/P aircraft. Project Outpost Seascan, also using an EC-121K (later
NC-121K), sampled hydrographic conditions worldwide for the antisubmarine warfare environmental prediction database, designed to support the Navy’s Cold War antisubmarine surveillance.
The three oceanographic projects were consolidated in the Oceanographic Airborne Survey Unit on 1 July 1965, the year the unit was assigned an unrelated role, Project Jenny, to provide airborne transmission platforms for radio and television broadcasts using C-121J (later NC-121J) “Blue Eagle” aircraft. The three Blue Eagle aircraft deployed to the Dominican Republic during the 1965 crisis and then to South Vietnam—where all three suffered combat damage—until 1970.
On I January 1969, VX-8 was redesignated VXN-8. During 1972-73, the C-121 aircraft were replaced by two RP-3A Orions for projects Birdseye and Outpost Seascan and an RP-3D for Project Magnet. During the 1980s, the squadron added P-3A, UP-3A, RP-3A, P-3B, and RP-3D aircraft as replacements or to take on additional projects.
VXN-8 was disestablished on 1 October 1993. Its main projects and two of its RP-3Ds were transferred to the Naval Research Laboratory’s Flight Support Detachment, which carries on numerous research roles today as Scientific Development Squadron One (VXS-1).