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Shingle Springs man survived suicide planes

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From page A1 | December 07, 2012 |

On Dec.7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Everett Fox Jr. was a junior at El Dorado High School. Two years later the 18-year old was a radar technician aboard the USS Nicholas on his way to Pearl Harbor after enlisting in the Navy with his  friend Charlie Jacquier. After working  six weeks as a radar instructor at Pearl, he was transferred to the USS Evans.

“We spent 17 months aboard without touching land, “said Fox, now 87. “We’d just pull alongside a carrier or tanker and have fuel pumped into our tanks.”

The Evans was deployed to  the South Pacific to patrol the Marshall Islands before going on to see  action at Saipan, Palau, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“The destroyers were at the back of the group of ships, protecting the flank,” said Evans. “Sometimes our planes would chase the Japanese planes and they’d get low on gas or shot up. If the plane’s tail fin was gone, they couldn’t land on the carrier, so we’d make a high-speed turn. It left a big smooth space in the water for the pilot to drop the plane and then we could pick him up. We never lost a pilot.”

On May 11, 1945, radarman Fox and his shipmates aboard the Evans faced an intensive barrage from a wave of  Japanese planes about 180 miles out from Okinawa. For more than six weeks, the Evans had been screening the carriers that launched Wildcats and Avenger torpedo bombers bombing Okinawa. Kamikaze (Japanese suicide dive bomber) attacks were intensifying.

“The night before we’d taken out a ‘Kate’, ( Japanese torpedo) and for the rest of the night the kamikazes were over the top of us. We slowed to 10 knots so we wouldn’t leave a big white wake. We didn’t dare shoot at them because we didn’t want to reveal our position,” said Fox. “In the morning, a Japanese float plane came over the horizon under our radar, skimming across the water to crash us. We took him out, but then I picked up a very large bogey on radar 186 miles north of us. It turned out to be 180 kamikaze planes.”

The attack came from all directions and for hours the Evans dodged dive-bombing kamikazes, torpedos and bombs. Several bombs and planes struck the ship, fires broke out and steam smothered the superstructure.

“One bomb hit about 20 feet from the radar room, but I didn’t get a scratch,” said Fox. “Only one person got out of the engine/boiler room alive. His ear lobes were blistered and drooping; all the rest of the men had been cooked by the steam.”

The Evans was heavily damaged and without power. While the ship was dead in the water, with crew members on deck tending to the wounded and the dead, a kamikaze appeared, heading directly for them.

“We had a 40 mm pom-pom left. We put it on manual and shot at the plane, damaging the wing. It flew right over the top of us and blew up off our fantail before going into the sea,” said Fox. The Evans was credited with taking out 19 enemy planes and assisting in the destruction of four others.

Support craft kept the ship from sinking and towed it  to an atoll with other damaged ships. U.S. planes laid a smoke screen to hide them from kamikaze. “Once we took the garbage over to the atoll and burned it,” said Fox. “Two kamikazes saw the fire and divebombed our garbage.”

The Evans was towed 8,000 miles to San Diego Harbor for repairs. The crew stayed aboard while repairs were under way. “We couldn’t use our ship’s kitchen, so we had to use the one on the tender next to us. We had Spam three times a day,” said Fox.

The deck was still littered with parts of the four Japanese planes that had crashed into them. “Guys from the repair ships would take the pistons off and make ashtrays out of them. Oil would leak all over our deck and finally we got tired of cleaning it up. We put planks between our deck and theirs and rolled the engines onto their deck,” laughed Fox.

The repairs took four months and by that time the war was over and the ship was decommissioned. Evans went to San Francisco as part of shore patrol for the 900 WAVES billeted on Post Street. “That was a tough duty,” said Fox.

After having survived several typhoons and major battles, Fox was discharged from the Navy in 1946. When he returned to El Dorado County where his parents Everett and Bertha Fox and his seven siblings lived, he  married Jackie Varozza. The two have been married 65 years and have five children, six grandchildren and “11 or 12 great-grandchildren.”

He’d worked for the Forestry Service in high school and went back to work for them while attending UC Davis. Once he got a full-time position, Fox worked 34 years for the Forest Service as a firefighter, problem solver and a ranger, largely in the air tactical program.

“I retired in March of 1976 and by April 1, I was digging the footings for this house,” said Fox of the family home on 85 acres in Shingle Springs. He ran cattle and still has 30 head. He still plays cutthroat pinochle every Friday with his brother Jim and Francis Carpenter who both worked for the Forest Service. Also, John Klos, the fourth member of their 1946 pumper crew was part of the pinochle group until he died earlier this year. Although Fox has gone fishing in British Columbia and Alaska, he said he doesn’t need to revisit any of the places he saw during the war. “I’ve been there already.”  Wife Jackie does the traveling for both of them.

“When I got home, my father said that the experience I’d gotten was worth a million bucks,” said Fox. “I told him I would rather have the million bucks.”

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