Portraits of Valor

WWII Hampden-Sydney Veterans

The Hampden-Sydney Society for the Preservation of Southern Heritage hosted the annual Hampden-Sydney College Veterans Day observance at the Memorial Gates on November 8, 2015. Colonel Greg Eanes, USAF (ret.), adjunct lecturer supporting the National Securities Studies program at the Hampden-Sydney College Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest, delivered the following remarks.

St. Lo

Men of Character Leading Lives of Consequence

These Hampden-Sydney men, among many others from our College, made their sacrifices in all the services in the four corners of the world. Those in World War II were in the thick of the fight from the first weeks of the war until its end. The men were all Virginians-Virginians espousing the chivalric values of honor, courage, integrity, patriotism, self-reliance, and a commitment to the moral principles upon which our nation was founded. While at the College, they ran track and played football; they were members of fraternities, student government, and honor societies, much like Hampden-Sydney men before and since. They were our countrymen and our College brothers.

John Francis Blackburn, Jr. '36 trained as a tank commander in the 13th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. The unit participated in the landings in North Africa on November 8, 1942, and was in the first American armored division to see combat in World War II. Landing near Oran, they took the city on November 10. By November 25 they had attacked an enemy airfield, taking it three days later. They repositioned on December 1 and were attacked by German armored forces at El Guessa Heights. This German attack led to a week of fighting that forced the green Americans to retreat to a more stabilized position where they were placed in reserve on 11 December. While Lt. Blackburn's death from wounds is reported as 16 December when the unit was in reserve, it is assessed he was mortally wounded in the earlier fighting.

Henry Spiller Winston III '44 son of Professor J.H.C. Winston, interrupted his studies at Hampden-Sydney to enter the Army in September 1942. He was assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. While in the vicinity of St. Lo, France, Winston was severely wounded. According to reports: "Suffering from shock and wounds and suffocation he refused to be evacuated for treatment, and insisted on proceeding to his commanding officer with captured documents which contained valuable information. Faithful unto death, he did his duty to the end." He earned the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for combat valor.

John Brooks Hunnicutt '46 had been overseas about seven months as an aerial gunner with Ninth Air Force on a B-26 Medium Bomber. He went out on 35 missions and was awarded the Air Medal for meritorious achievement and faithful performance of duty. Wounded on November 2, 1944, he was in the hospital for two months; he returned to combat duty on January 14, 1945, and was killed that very day on a mission over Belgium. A hot metal splinter from enemy anti-aircraft fire struck him in the temple, knocking him unconscious. He was flown to a field hospital, where he died. According to a Hampden-Sydney official, "
The boy was only nineteen years of age, but he did a man's work and did it well."

George Bruce Williams '44 enlisted in the Army Air Force. While flying a B-17 in the late summer of 1944 he had occasion make an "air visit" home, passing over Hampden-Sydney College. It was likely his last visit. He deployed to England shortly thereafter to begin combat missions as part of the 331st Bomb Squadron, 94th Bombardment Group, in the U.S. 8th Air Force.
Williams' second combat mission targeted an oil refinery at Bohlen. A few minutes before the bomb run, overwhelming numbers of enemy aircraft attacked Williams' Group. His squadron took the brunt of the attacks of over 60 German fighters. According to official reports at the time, "[Williams'] aircraft was last seen going down in the vicinity of the [target]. Due to the extreme battle conditions prevailing, no further observations were made and no further information regarding this crew is known."Saipan

James Stafford Martin '31 entered service in July 1942, served in Pacific as radio operator and corporal on a B-25 bomber. He was based in Assam Province, India, supporting the China-Burma-India Theater of operations. Martin's bomber was on a mission over Burma when his plane and its crew of six men went down in the jungle on October 24, 1944. He was dead at the age of 36. His remains were recovered and are now interred at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville.

Alfred Lennox Lorraine, Jr. '43 was a Navy pilot and participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also famously known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," the largest carrier-to-carrier engagement in World War II and a battle in which the U.S. Navy effectively destroyed Japan's remaining carrier force. June 19 had seen heavy combat action in the air, but the Japanese Carrier Task Force was not actually located until after 3 p.m. on June 20. Admiral Mitscher launched a 230-plane force only to learn about 15 minutes later that the Japanese Fleet was farther away than initially reported-at the end of the turnaround point for the aircraft. Lorraine was part of this aerial task force. They reached the Japanese fleet just before sunset and attacked. Lorraine is credited with making "repeated twilight strafing attacks" and "contributed to the damaging of an enemy destroyer, which exploded violently amidships."

By the time they finished, it was dark and they were low on fuel. The Japanese had shot down about 20 aircraft. Of the remaining 200, about 80 became lost, ran out of fuel, and crashed into the sea. Lorraine led a group of eight lost planes in total darkness, without modern navigation devices, for a distance of 325 miles, guiding them all back safely to the carrier.

Later, Lorraine and his wingman were slightly west of Manila at 11,000 feet. The wingman saw three Japanese Mitsubishi Zeros flying 3000 feet above them and slightly behind. After some initial maneuvering, according to the report:
"There was a light trail of smoke behind [Lorraine] so [his wingman] joined up to find out the trouble, and surmised that Lorraine had been hit in the engine, because his windshield was covered with oil but his hatch was open and he seemed unhurt and had his plane under control. He was then at 10,000 feet...[and] losing altitude slowly. ..."

"As he pulled up he lost sight of Lorraine under his wing, and immediately made two steep turns, but he could not find him... The last time he saw him was at...1015 [a.m.]."

Lorraine was killed in action. His body was never recovered. Today, in addition to being memorialized on the gates at Hampden-Sydney College, he is also memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines, the country he helped to liberate.

Robert Dunn McIlwaine '44 was a naval aviator and was raised at Hampden-Sydney. His father was the Rev. William Baird McIlwaine, Jr. 1905. His grandfather was the Honorable William B. McIlwaine 1873. And his great-uncle was the Rev. Richard McIlwaine, a distinguished president of Hampden-Sydney College. During the Marianas Campaign and the battle for Saipan, in an attack on a Japanese ammunition point, the young McIlwaine's plane took a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire, obliterating the plane and the pilot. According to his ship's history:
"Though we had previously suffered operational losses, our first combat loss came on 12 June, when Ensign R.D. McIlwane's Hellcat fighter was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crashed before the pilot could get clear. Impressive and solemn memorial services were held aboard ship the next day...So far as is known, Ensign McIlwane was the first American pilot to lose his life on Saipan and in the Marianas Campaign." He was awarded an Air Medal posthumously for his heroism.

Henry Hunter Watson, Jr. '38 enlisted in the U.S. Navy on February 26, 1942, and entered the Aviation Cadet Program in April of that year.

He flew the famous Curtiss Helldiver, a dive-bomber. To support American amphibious landings in New Guinea, Watson and other aircrew attacked New Guinea's Sawar Airfield in an attempt to neutralize Japanese airpower, aviation fuel, and to destroy Japanese supply ships.
Watson was part of a flight of six dive-bombers targeting the airfield. Flying in at 9000 feet, the bombers dived to within 2,000 feet before releasing bombs. Eyewitnesses recounted at least one large explosion, fire, and black smoke marking hits on the Japanese fuel dump and other targets. Facing severe anti-aircraft fire, the Navy planes escaped the area and headed out to sea to rendezvous for the return trip to the carrier.

According official Navy reports, one of the airplanes was flown by LT (jg) Walter E. Finger of Illinois, which:
"...overshot at high speed with his wing up, and crashed into the plane of LT Watson. The propeller of LT Finger's plane cut off the forward part of the fuselage in front of the wing of LT Watson's plane and the engine...broke off. Both planes...spiraled into the water in flames. Two of the planes' occupants (unrecognizable) were seen to jump clear but the planes were too low for parachutes to open. One parachute opened partially, but not sufficiently to break the fall."

They were all killed.

More than 50 Hampden-Sydney men sacrificed their lives in the service of their country in World War II. These were all men of character. They all lived lives of consequence. They are all portraits of valor that helped preserve our Republic during its greatest modern challenge.

As we reflect on the sacrifices of these Hampden-Sydney men and so many others not mentioned, I think we can safely say that their experiences at Hampden-Sydney College helped develop their character and their sense of duty. From them we can take inspiration with the full knowledge that at Hampden-Sydney College, "Honor lives, and tradition never dies."