Evans was the final Coast Guard survivor of a dramatic rescue of a group of Marines pinned down by machine gun fire during the Guadalcanal Campaign, September 1942 where he earned the Navy Cross.
Among those who attended the memorial service was 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 Medal of Honor recipient 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 7 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 dollars a month.”
After joint assignments that took Evans and Munro from Washington State to New York City, the two shipmates found themselves aboard the U.S. Army transport ship 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 that bombs had fallen on Pearl Harbor.
In less than a year Evans and Munro were reassigned as coxswain and crew of a Higgins boats that were 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. It was necessary to evacuate the Marines immediately. Both men volunteered for the job and brought their boats to shore under heavy enemy fire, then 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. For his actions, Evans was awarded the Navy Cross.
Evans’ friend would not fare as well. 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. He placed himself and his boats in such a way that they would 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 four words: “Did they get off?”
“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. Can we talk about something else?” said Evans remembering his friend who had died many years before.
Evans remained humble about his contribution during his service on Guadalcanal.
“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.”
His humbleness turns to awe as he remembers the Marines and his close association with them so many years ago.
“Got to admire those guys,” said Evans. “I really feel a great deal of pride that when they received the Presidential Unit Citation for Guadalcanal, First Marine Division, that they gave to all us Coast Guard that were there with ‘em. And that was, that was great.”
In 1962, Evans retired after 23 years of service in the Coast Guard and passed away peacefully in his home May 30, 2013. And though another chapter of a heroic World War II veteran has closed, his sacrifices will never be forgotten.
For imagery from Cmdr Evans’ memorial service please click here: http://Flickr.com/CoastGuardNews
For Cmdr Evans’ 1992 oral history, please click here: http://www.uscg.mil/history/weboralhistory/Ray_Evans_Video_Interview.asp