Aug 31

Ensign James H. Eoff and USS Ranger

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 12:01 AM

Heroism is not confined to the battlefield, and opportunities to demonstrate it occur as naval aviators train to be ready for war in time of peace.

On 31 August 1939, the day before war would begin in Europe that would eventually become a global conflict, it was business as usual for naval aviators at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

That morning, 27-year old ENS James H. Eoff, A-V(N), USNR, of Bombing Squadron Four, attached to the Ranger (CV-4) Air Group, took off in a Vought SB2U-1 [Vindicator] from NAS Hampton Roads, on what was slated to be a routine navigation and radio training flight. Radioman 3d Class Joseph T. George rode in the after cockpit as his passenger.

At about 1022, a witness on the ground heard the sound of an engine cutting out. Eoff, apparently realizing that the plane was in extremis and the terrain below would not permit a forced landing, ordered his passenger to bail out.

Tragically, Radioman 3d Class George’s parachute became fouled on a part of the plane, for he seemed to be dangling some 15 feet behind and below it. Eyewitnesses then saw the SB2U-1 sway from side to side, as if Eoff was trying to dislodge his trapped passenger. In staying at the controls, however, the young pilot sacrificed his own chance to jump clear of the plane in its terminal dive as it plunged to earth in a near-vertical attitude near Stony Creek, Virginia, and crashed, killing both men instantly.

For his courageously remaining with his doomed plane in an attempt to save his passenger’s life, ENS Eoff was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously.