(Presented here is the next installment in a continuing series of the Fontana Honor Roll’s recognition and appreciation for the 44 men from Fontana who gave their lives in service to their country in foreign wars. Beginning publication on Memorial Day weekend and ending on Veterans Day, we extend our thanks and appreciation to the families of these men, our true Fontana heroes.)
United States Aviation Machinist’s Mate and Petty Officer Second Class Eugene K. Horn was killed in action and lost at sea on Oct. 25, 1944 when his ship, the aircraft carrier USS St. Lo, became the first major warship to be sunk as the result of a kamikaze attack during World War II. It is believed that the burning ship photo above shows the actual kamikaze attack that killed Horn.
The attack on the St. Lo occurred during the infamous battle of Leyte Gulf. The St. Lo was built by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company in Vancouver, WA at a cost of $6,033,429.05. (Yes, Naval records were that precise!)
At 10:15 a.m. on that Oct. 25 day, the task unit with which the St. Lo was serving came under heavy Japanese air bombardment, including a 40-minute kamikaze attack. During this attack, all but one of the escort carriers were damaged by the kamikazes.
Also at that time, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Japanese Zero crashed into the flight deck of the St. Lo at 10:51 A.M. The bomb penetrated the flight deck and exploded on the port side of the hangar deck, where aircraft were in the process of being refueled and rearmed. A gasoline fire erupted, followed by six secondary explosions, including detonations of the ship’s torpedo and bomb magazine. The St. Lo was engulfed in flames and sank 30 minutes later.
Of the 889 men aboard, 113 were killed or missing, including Horn, and 30 others later died from their wounds. The survivors were rescued from the water by the USS Heerman, USS John C. Butler, USS Raymond and USS Dennis, which alone picked up 434 survivors. (Source, Peter C. Smith, author of “Kamikaze To Die For The Emperor”) The St. Lo received the Presidential Unit Citation for the heroism of her crew in a previous battle off Samar and 4 battle stars for her World War II service.
Information concerning Horn’s link to Fontana is scarce at best. On Dec. 20, 1942, the San Bernardino Sun ran an article with the headline, “MEN ELIGIBLE AS INDUCTEES ARE REVEALED,” in which Horn’s name is listed as an inductee along with other familiar Fontana names such as Dodson, Lugo, Micallef, Karas, Willis, Schupback and Earl S. Davis (who was this writer’s 9th grade history teacher, baseball coach and student council advisor at Fontana Junior High School in 1964-65).
Ironically, Horn was drafted on the same day as Cecil G. Sansome, who would also be killed in action in WWII.
The next reference to Horn is in his father’s obituary, also in the S.B. Sun, on Dec. 24, 1945. Horn is listed as the son of Thomas J. Horn of 840 East Arrow Boulevard, who lived in Fontana for the last five years of his life. The elder Horn’s obituary commented that “AMM 2/c Eugene K. Horn (has been) reported missing in action by the Navy.”
The final reference to Petty Officer Horn occurs when his name is listed as a Fontana WWII casualty in another S.B. Sun story on Nov. 9, 1956, announcing the dedication of a memorial to the WWII and Korean War veterans from Fontana who were killed in action.
Horn’s name is included in a memorial to the dead and missing in the Manilla American Cemetery and Memorial in the National Capital Region in the Philippines. Horn was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Navy Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Good Conduct Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Navy Expeditionary Medal.
On May 14, 2019, the wreck of the St. Lo was found by the Research Vessel Petrel. A sea survey 11 days later determined that the St. Lo was sitting upright in 15,538 feet of water, on the edge of the Philippine Trench.
(As always, Bill Freeman would appreciate hearing from you if you have more information regarding any of the Fontanans killed in WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War or War on Terror. He may be contacted at email@example.com.)