Pearl Harbor survivor Jack Evans set his sights high in the Navy

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Getting stationed in and surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor was just the first rung on a ladder to a good life for retired Capt. Jack Evans. As the special speaker at the La Mesa Lions Club meeting, Evans told the story of how the Navy helped him rise to the top, both in rank and in life.

At 17 years old, Evans graduated from high school in June of 1941. His stepfather told him that he had done all he could do, and that it was time to go out on his own. 

Getting stationed in and surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor was just the first rung on a ladder to a good life for retired Capt. Jack Evans. As the special speaker at the La Mesa Lions Club meeting, Evans told the story of how the Navy helped him rise to the top, both in rank and in life.

At 17 years old, Evans graduated from high school in June of 1941. His stepfather told him that he had done all he could do, and that it was time to go out on his own. 

“But honestly, it was fine. I knew I was free to go,” Evans said.

His first duty station was the Lookout Division on the USS Tennessee in Pearl Harbor. On the evening of December 6, Evans went to hear the Battle of the Bands and get some dancing in. He asked each of the seven young ladies in the officer’s section to dance with him. 

“They all said no, looking me up and down,” Evans said, chuckling.

It just so happened that Evans’ Chief Petty Officer saw what happened. He asked Evans if he would dance with Pat, his daughter.

“He insisted that his daughter, just 10 years old, was a very good dancer,” Evans said.

It was a night to remember. Evans and the girl were still on the floor by intermission time. 

“Three of the young ladies who had turned me down came up and said they thought ‘we kids’ were going to win,” Evans said.

Sure enough, they did. Evans and the CPO’s daughter both went home with a trophy in their arms. Evans went to sleep that evening in his hammock on the foretop. The next morning, as he talked with a couple other sailors about what they might do for the day, an alarm sounded in general quarters.

“We all thought it was terrible to hold a drill on a weekend while in port,” Evans said. “But then we heard ‘Man your battle stations, this is no drill!’”

As Evans came up to the foretop, planes were flying overhead. Hickam Field was up in smoke. 

The USS Tennessee was moored in Battleship Row in front of the USS Arizona. Evans saw the USS Oklahoma go all the way upside down. Nine torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia. It sunk straight down as did the USS California, Evans said. 

Though only one torpedo, it landed in such a way as to split the ship in half, hitting the USS Arizona sinking with all the sailors trapped underneath.

Two bombs hit the Tennessee. One bomb threw shrapnel all over, killing many men on the West Virginia. One piece hit Evans in his leg.

“I went down to sick bay, and they cleaned out the metal and told me to go back to duty. All night I stayed in the foretop. Someone in the galley finally sent me two sandwiches,” Evans said.

Evans received a Purple Heart for the leg wounds. But Evans did not just sit down for a rest. Shortly after the attack, Evans took a test for advancement. He was only one of two men who passed the test. As a result, the lieutenant in charge of the Aviation Unit took his requests to be a pilot seriously.

“Without any college, most pilot programs were not available to me. But I was accepted into the program and got my Navy pilot wings in January of 1945,” he said.

Evans had his sights set on bettering his position even more. With still just a high school education, he became an Ensign. With more education at UCLA, he qualified to be a full-fledged aviator, flying a PBM for 4,000 hours.

“I flew through storms so bad that all I could do was hold the aircraft as level as possible. I still don’t know how the wings stayed on,” Evans said.

From there, Evans went to work at the Pentagon for Guided Missile Operations. The real step up for Evans was the BA degree he received at the University of Maryland.

“I became successful. Here I came in at age 17 with no education, and I went on through the ranks and got promoted to Captain in 1966. I was somewhat of a rare bird,” Evans said.

Everyone at the Lions meeting applauded. But they still had one question.

“What about the girl he danced with? Whatever happened with her?” asked Doug Battey, president of the La Mesa Lions.

“Well, we met up many years later, right here in San Diego at the Scottish Rite Center. Right, Pat?” Evans said, nodding towards the back.

Pat Thompson stood up, grinning. “We’ve become friends. I’ll be here to tell my side of the story on July 29. You can’t miss that,” she said, walking up to him.

Thompson and Evans did a little dance step together.

La Mesa Lions Club meetings are open to all guests. Meetings are held every Tuesday at noon at the La Mesa Community Center.

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