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Navsource Online: Destroyer Escort Photo Archive

Ship's Patches Courtesy of Mike Smolinski

USS Wilhoite (DE 397)

Flag Hoist / Radio Call Sign:
N - T - H - U
Tactical Voice Radio Call: "Smoky Hill"

Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons

Precedence of awards is from top to bottom, left to right
Top Row: Combat Action Ribbon (retroactive) - Presidential Unit Citation
Second Row: Navy Unit Commendation - American Campaign Medal - Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
Third Row: Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal w/ 1 star - World War II Victory Medal - National Defense Service Medal
Fourth Row: Antarctic Service Ribbon - Viet Nam Service Medal w/ 6 stars - Republic of Viet Nam Campaign Medal

Class: Edsall
Type: FMR (geared diesel, Fairbanks-Morse reverse gear drive, 3" guns)
Displacement: 1200 tons (light), 1590 tons (full)
Length: 300' (wl), 306' (oa)
Beam: 36' 10" (extreme)
Draft: 20' 6" (draft limit)
Propulsion: 4 Fairbanks-Morse Mod. 38d81/8 geared diesel engines, 4 diesel-generators, 6000 shp, 2 screws
Speed: 21 kts
Range: 9,100 nm @ 12 knots
Armament: 3 x 3"/50 Mk22 (1x3), 1 twin 40mm Mk1 AA, 8 x 20mm Mk 4 AA, 3 x 21" Mk15 TT (3x1), 1 Hedgehog Projector Mk10 (144 rounds), 8 Mk6 depth charge projectors, 2 Mk9 depth charge tracks
Complement: 8 / 201
Wilhoite (DE 397) Building and Operational Data:
  • 04 August 1943: Keel laid by the Brown Shipbuilding Co., Houston, Tex.
  • 05 October 1943: Launched and christened, sponsored by Mrs. Corinne M. Wilhoite, the mother of Ensign Thomas M. Wilhoite
  • 16 December 1943: Commissioned at the Tennessee Coal and Iron Co. Dock, Houston, Tex.; Lt. Eli B. Roth in command
  • 01 - 24 August 1944: Wilhoite, in company with DE's 393, 394, 395, 396, and USS Bogue (CVE 9) were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic as units of TG 22.3
  • 19 June 1946: Decommissioned at Green Cove Springs, Fla. after 2 years and 6 months of service
  • 02 September 1954: Reclassified as DER 397 while undergoing conversion at the Charleston Naval Shipyard
  • 29 January 1955: Recommissioned at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, Lcdr. Lambert V. Forde in command, assigned to Seattle, Wash. as a unit of Escort Squadron 5
  • 04 March 1959: Homeport assignment changed to Pearl Harbor, Hi.
  • 08 February 1961: Crossed the Antarctic Circle while operating as a unit of "Deep Freeze '61"
  • early 1969: Wilhoite, in company with USS Brister (DER 327), was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for operations off the Vietnam coast as units of TF 115 (U.S. Navy Coastal Surveillance Force)
  • 02 July 1969: Decommissioned at Bremerton, Wash. after 14 years and 5 months of service
  • 02 July 1969: Struck from the NVR with a total of 16 years and 11 months of service
  • 19 July 1972: Sold for scrapping to the General Metals Co, Inc. of Tacoma, Wash.

    07 November 1959: Pearl Harbor Naval Station - Lcdr R.D. McCrary (left) is relieved as CO by Lcdr C.H. Willis aboard Wilhoite.
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    35k Thomas Mack Wilhoite was born on 12 February 1921 in Guthrie, Ky. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve on 16 June 1941 at Atlanta, Ga., and received his aviation indoctrination training at the Naval Reserve Air Base, Atlanta, Ga. On 07 August, he reported for flight instruction at the Naval Air Station (NAS), Pensacola, Fla., and was appointed an aviation cadet the following day. Transferred to NAS, Miami, Fla., on 15 January 1942 for further training, he became a naval aviator on 06 February. Three days later, he was commissioned an ensign and, at the end of February, reported to the Advanced Carrier Training Group, Atlantic Fleet, NAS, Norfolk, Va. There, he joined Fighting Squadron (VF) 9, then fitting out and, in time, became the assistant navigation officer for that squadron.

    Operation "Torch," the invasion of French North Africa, saw VF-9 assigned to the carrier Ranger (CV 4). Each section of the squadron drew assigned tasks on 08 November 1942, the first day of the landings; and 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 antiaircraft fire, he pressed home a determined attack and set three French bombers afire with his guns. In a second strike directed at the Port Lyautey airdrome later that day, Wilhoite flew as part of the third flight and 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 and crashed about one mile from Port Lyautey.

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

    USS Wilhoite (DE 397) (1943-1969) was the first ship to be named in his honor.

    (Photo from the USS Wilhoite Association Website)
    Mike Smolinski
    Clifton, N.J.

    Navsource DE/FF/LCS
    Archive Manager
    493k undated wartime image

    ("In memory of Robert J. Smith, SK2, USNR").
    Joe Smith
    123k Ron Reeves
    Oaklyn, N.J.
    35k undated postwar photo

    (Official U.S. Navy Photo; from "Jane's Fighting Ships, 1958-59")
    Bob Hurst
    Worksop, Nottinghamshire,
    England, United Kingdom
    243k pre-1961: San Diego, Cal. - Wilhoite heads out to sea from San Diego Harbor. Note, mount 31 forward is still uncovered. Nick Tiberio
    Shelton, Conn.
    169k January 1961: Sydney, Australia Pete Schonenberg,
    Commander, USN (ret.)
    XO - Navigator 1960 - 1961

    via Bob Hall
    123k -- July 1961: Pearl Harbor Naval Station - Lcdr Charles H. Willis (seated) is relieved as CO by Lcdr Robert L. Thorsen aboard Wilhoite. Ron Reeves
    Oaklyn, N.J.
    76k 12 February 1966: Pearl Harbor, Hi.

    (Photo © Richard Leonhardt)
    Richard Leonhardt
    Bethlehem, Pa.
    38k date / location unknown Bob Hurst
    Worksop, Nottinghamshire,
    England, United Kingdom
    610k date / location unknown

    (Official U.S. Navy Photo; from the "1969 Wilhoite WestPac Cruise Book")
    Mike Smolinski
    Clifton, N.J.

    Navsource DE/FF/LCS
    Archive Manager
    546k undated: A port bow view of the radar picket escort ship USS Wilhoite (DER 397 underway off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

    (U.S. Naval Historical Center photo #L45-307.03.01 from the Naval Subjects Collection at the Naval History and Heritage Command)
    Yu Chu
    Brunei Darussalam
    South East Asia

    View Paul M. LaFave's
    Wilhoite Scrapbook
    Wilhoite Memorabilia
    Courtesy of
    Mike Smolinski
    Courtesy of
    Richard Scheeder
    Change of Command
    Courtesy of
    Ron Reeves
    Courtesy of
    Nick Tiberio

    Wilhoite History
    View the USS Wilhoite (DE 397) DANFS history entry located on the Naval History and Heritage Command web site.
    View the official War History of USS Wilhoite as submitted by the ship at war's end.

    Wilhoite's Commanding Officers
    Thanks to Wolfgang Hechler
    Dates of Command Commanding Officers
    1.)  16 Dec. 1943 17 Dec. 1944Lt./Lcdr. Eli Baer Roth, USN (Comm. CO) (USNA '39) (New York City, N. Y.)
    2.)  15 Dec. 1944 08 Feb. 1945Lcdr. Robert Warren Whalen, USNR
    3.)  08 Feb. 1945 07 Mar. 1945Lt. Raymond Wilson Dudley, USNR (acting)
    4.)  07 Mar. 1945 09 Dec. 1945Lt./Lcdr. Robertson Cable Moore, USNR
    5.)  09 Dec. 1945 25 Jan. 1946Lt. Charles H. Horch, USNR (St. Marys, Ohio)
    6.)  25 Jan. 1946 15 Apr. 1946Lcdr. Jack Edward Kennedy, USNR (USNA 42) (Water Valley, Miss.)
    7.)  15 Apr. 1946 19 Jun. 1946Lt.(jg) A. W. Smith, USNR (Decomm. CO)
    8.)  29 Jan. 1955 28 Sep. 1956Cmdr. Lambert Vernon Forde (Recomm. CO) (USNA 41) (Hillsboro, N. D.)
    9.)  28 Sep. 1956 29 May 1958Lcdr. Dan J. Rienstra Jr. (USNA 44) (Nederland, Tex.)
    10.) 29 May 1958 07 Nov. 1959Lcdr. Robert Davison McCrary (Lakewood, N.J.)
    11.) 07 Nov. 1959 22 Jul. 1961Lcdr./Cmdr. Charles Hampton Willis
    12.) 22 Jul. 1961 28 Jul.. 1962Lcdr./Cmdr. Robert Leroy Thorsen
    13.) 28 Jul. 1962 31 Dec. 1963Lcdr./Cmdr. Frank Comstock Mead
    14.) 31 Dec. 1963 22 Aug. 1965Lcdr./Cmdr. Howard Norman Kay (USNA 48-B) (Whitefish Bay, Wis.)
    15.) 22 Aug. 1965 02 Dec. 1966Lcdr./Cmdr. James Edwin Fernandes (Prior enl.) (Tiverton, R. I.)
    16.) 02 Dec. 1966 31 Dec. 1967Lcdr./Cmdr. Estel Wilbur Hayes (USNA 53) (Giltner, Nebr.)
    17.) 31 Dec. 1967 02 Jul. 1969Lcdr. David Hamlin Griffin (Decomm. CO) (New York, N. Y.)

    Crew Contact And Reunion Information

    2020 Reunion
    21 September 2020 in Buffalo, N.Y.
    Reunion Contact: Connie Mauldin
    Phone: (405) 354-9204
    E-mail: cporetrn at
    Note About Contacts

    Contact information is compiled from various sources over a period of time and may, or may not, be correct. Every effort has been
    made to list the newest contact. However, our entry is only as good as the latest information that's been sent to us. We list only
    a contact for the ship if one has been sent to us. We do NOT have crew lists or rosters available. Please see the Frequently Asked
    Questions section on Navsource's Main Page for that information.

    Additional Resources

    USS Wilhoite Association Web Site
    Tin Can Sailors
    The U.S. Navy Memorial
    Destroyer Escort Sailors Association
    The Destroyer Escort Historical Museum
    The Destroyer History Foundation
    To The DE, FF, LCS Photo Index Page
    Back To The Main Photo Index

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    This Page Created And Maintained By Mike Smolinski
    All pages copyright Navsource Naval History
    by Paul R. Yarnall, All Rights Reserved.
    Page Last Updated: 28 March 2023