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Retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Ray Evans, 92, was laid to rest June 5, with full military honors. Evans, who passed away May 30, was the final survivor of a dramatic rescue of a group of Marines pinned down by machine gun fire during the battle of Guadalcanal, September 1942 where he earned the Navy Cross.
Among those who attended the memorial service were his wife of more than 70 years, Dorothy; his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. John Currier. Members of the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion Bangor performed a three-volley salute at the funeral signifying the bond Evans and the Marine Corps have shared since the darkest days of World War II.
Evans joined the Coast Guard alongside the service’s only Medal of Honor recipient, Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro, in September 1939.
“[I] Came out of high school and looked for a job all summer in 1939 and it was a very poor time for jobs and went to the Coast Guard and they said they had not taken a recruit in seven years,” said Evans in an oral history recorded in 1992. “They called me back in September and said, ‘Are you still interested? We’ve got seven openings. I said, ‘yes I am.’ And that’s how it started, as an apprentice seaman at $21 a month.”
After joint assignments that took Evans and Munro from Washington to New York City found themselves aboard the Hunter Liggett. It was during a trip to India, 250 miles south of Cape Town, South Africa, on a quiet December morning in 1941, they heard over the radio bombs had fallen on Pearl Harbor.
In less than a year Evans and Munro were reassigned as coxswain and crew of a Higgins boats responsible for transporting Marines to and from Guadalcanal. In the Second Battle of the Matanikau, part of the Guadalcanal campaign, after successfully taking Marines from the 1st Battalion 7th Marines 1st Marine Division ashore, the two Coast Guardsmen returned to their previously assigned position. Almost immediately, they learned that conditions ashore were different than had been anticipated and the Marines were surrounded by enemy Japanese forces on the beachhead. The Marines needed to be evacuated. Both men volunteered for the job, brought their boats to shore under heavy enemy fire and proceeded to evacuate the men on the beach.
Evans remained at his post during the entire evacuation. He maintained control of his boat with one hand on the wheel and continued to fire his weapon with the other until the last boat cleared the beach. When the majority of the Marines were in the boats, complications arose in evacuating the last men, whom Munro realized would be in the greatest danger. Munro placed himself and his boats to serve as cover for the last men to leave.
“I saw that Doug was facing forward, and I was standing up by the coxswain looking back, I saw this line of waterspouts coming across the water, and I yelled at Doug to get down,” said Evans during his oral history. “He couldn’t hear me over the engine noise, and it hit him. It was one burst of fire. And that’s how he died. And that’s how it happened.”
Munro remained conscious long enough to say just four words.
“He said ‘did they get off?’ and that’s about all he said. And then he died. I don’t think he ever heard me answer him. It was very quick fortunately,” recalled Evans.
Evans remained humble about his service on Guadalcanal, despite the heroics exhibited that day.
“We just did a job,” said Evans. “We were asked to take them over there, and we were asked to bring them back off [of] there, and [that’s] what we did. That’s what the Coast Guard does. We do what we’re asked to do.”
The Coast Guard’s first major participation in the Pacific war was at Guadalcanal. During the war, the Coast Guard manned more than 350 ships and hundreds more amphibious type assault craft. Evans, and others serving alongside him, performed their mission with valor and bravery that has left an indelible mark in our service’s legacy.
“He was a multi-dimensional man. He was a man both ordinary and extraordinary. An officer, a leader, a husband, a father, a hero. He was iconic in Coast Guard history, amongst the very giants in our 220 year past,” said Currier at his memorial service.
While another chapter of a heroic World War II veteran has closed, his sacrifices will never be forgotten.