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Thomas  Mack  Wilhoite

Silver Star

F4F Aircraft on USS Ranger
WWII Aircraft Carrier

US Navy  

USS Wilhoite, DE-397
WWII Destroyer Escort

Thomas Mack Wilhoite

Born:  February 12, 1921, in Guthrie, KY

Entered Service: June 16, 1941, in the US Naval Reserve in Atlanta, GA

Earned The Silver Star During World War II For heroism November 8, 1942, at Port Lyautey (now Kenitra) Airdrome, French Morocco

Died:  November 8, 1942, at the age of 21


I tell you they have not died,
They live and breath with you,
They walk now--here at your side,
They tell you things are true.
Why dream of poppied sod
When you can feel their breath;
When flowers and soul and God
Know there is no death?

I tell you they have not died,
Their hands clasp yours and mine,
They are now but glorified,
They have become divine.
They live, they know, they see,
They shout with every breath,
"All is Eternal Life,
There is no death."

Windom Earle


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD
(1872-1918) Canadian Army
(Written 2 May 1915 near Ypres, Bulgium.)


Thomas Mack Wilhoite was born on February 12, 1921, in Guthrie, KY. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve on June 16, 1941 in Atlanta, GA, and received his aviation indoctrination training at the Naval Reserve Air Base in Atlanta. On August 7, 1941 he reported for flight instruction at the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Pensacola, FL, and was appointed an aviation cadet the following day. Transferred to NAS in Miami, FL, on January 15, 1942, for further training, he became a Naval aviator on February 6, 1942. Three days later he was commissioned an Ensign and at the end of February had reported to the Advanced Carrier Training Group, Atlantic Fleet, NAS in Norfolk, VA. There he joined Fighting Squadron (VF) 9, then preparing to go to war. He became the Assistant Navigation Officer for that squadron.

Operation Torch--the World War II invasion of French North Africa--saw VF-9 assigned to the aircraft carrier USS RANGER (CV-4). It was that aircraft carrier that provided air superiority during the amphibious invasion of German-dominated French Morocco (commencing early November 8, 1942). It was still dark at 6:15 a.m. that day when RANGER, stationed 30 miles northwest of Casablanca, began launching her aircraft to support the landings made at three points on the Atlantic coast of North Africa. Each section of the squadron had drawn assigned tasks on that morning, the first day of the amphibious landings. Wilhoite flew one of five Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats which attacked the French airdrome at Rabat-Sale, the headquarters of the French air forces in Morocco. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, Wilhoite pressed home a determined attack and set three French bombers afire with his guns.

In a second strike directed at the Port Lyautey (now Kenitra) Airdrome later that day, Wilhoite flew his Wildcat, Bureau Number (BuNo) 02023, as part of the RANGER's third flight. He destroyed one fighter--a Dewoitine 520--by strafing; however, the Vichy ground gunners served their weapons well and Wilhoite's Wildcat took hits from the intense flak. His plane crashed about one mile from Port Lyautey. After all was said and done, the RANGER's aircraft destroyed more than 70 enemy planes on the ground, shot down 15 in aerial combat, immobilized 21 light enemy tanks, and destroyed 86 military vehicles. Casablanca surrendered to the Americans on November 11, 1942, 3 days after Ensign Wilhoite's death.

Thomas Mack Wilhoite received the Silver Star posthumously, for displaying "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" during the strikes at Rabat-Sale and Port Lyautey. The citation also noted Wilhoite's "superb airmanship and tenacious devotion to duty" in pressing home his strafing attacks.

Although he was killed in action, Wilhoite had played his part in the significant operations of VF-9 in neutralizing Vichy French air power that, if unhindered, could have severely hampered "Operation Torch".

His courage was so noteworthy the United States Navy honored him by naming a Destroyer Escort (DE) for him. The USS Wilhoite (DE-397) was laid down on 4 August 1943 at Houston, Tex., by the Brown Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 5 October 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Corinne M. Wilhoite, the mother of Ensign Wilhoite; and commissioned at Houston on 16 December 1943, Lt. Eli B. Roth in command.

(DE-397: dp. 1,200; 1. 306'0"; b. 36'7"; dr. 8'7" (mean); s. 21 k.; cpl. 186; a. 3 3", 2 40mm., 10 20mm., 2 dct., 8 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.); cl. Edsall)

In 1950, a high school for military dependents was established at the Port Lyautey Naval Air Station, constructed on the site of the French Port Lyautey Airdrome in Morocco. This location is the exact spot where Ens. Wilhoite performed his brave deeds, and where he lost his life defending his country. In 1954, the school was renamed "The Thomas Mack Wilhoite High School" in honor of a hero who was just barely out of high school himself.

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Created on ... November 10, 2003
by SgtGeorge (George W. Durman)
for one of the many Germanna cousins
who have made the ultimate sacrifice
and who have "passed the torch" on
to us.  We will hold it high -- we shall
break faith with those who have
died, and we will not sleep.
(Copyright © 2003 by George W. DURMAN.)