Naval Air Station Fallon is known among the locals simply as ‘the base,’ and few are familiar with the airfield’s real name or the man for whom the field is named.
In fact, the airfield represents a memorial to a WWII naval aviation hero and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Avery Van Voorhis, the airfield’s namesake, was born in Aberdeen, Wash., on Jan. 29, 1908. Shortly thereafter he moved with his family to Fallon where he spent his childhood. His father served as the Indian Service Representative at Stillwater. Van Voorhis attended school at the Oats Park Grade School and later graduated from Churchill County High School in 1924 where his classmates also knew him as “Clint.”
He was a 1929 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and earned his pilot wings in 1931. Van Voorhis served with numerous aviation units stateside and overseas. He reported for duty to Bombing Squadron 102 as Plane Commander of a PB4Y-1 at the height of conflict in the Pacific during WWII.
Van Voorhis died on July 6, 1943, near Hare Island of the Kapingamarangi Atoll in the southernmost area of the Eastern Carolina Islands in the Western Pacific. After a 700-mile flight alone, he launched successive bombing and strafing attacks on Japanese ground installations, destroying a radio station, anti-aircraft emplacement and at least four enemy aircraft in the air and on the water in six successive ground level attacks. He was caught in his own bomb blast and crashed into a lagoon, ending his heroic, single-handed strike.
The air station was dedicated in his name on Nov. 1, 1959. At that time the 14,000-foot runway was one of the longest in the world and remains the longest in the Navy. In 1956, 13 years after Van Voorhis’ death, a destroyer escort was launched bearing his name (DD-1028) from the shipyard in Camden, N.J. The ship was in service throughout the world for 17 years, including participation in the naval blockade of Cuba in 1962, before being decommissioned in 1972. In 1982, then Nevada Gov. Robert List, issued a proclamation designating May 31 as Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Avery Van Voorhis Day in the Battle Born State.
As the names of a new generation of heroes is written in the history books, Americans can look back gratefully at the heritage left by those who came before and know that this country is no stranger to the cost of freedom. The list of those willing to fight, and die, to pay that price is long and continues through every chapter of America’s history. Among that list of names is Nevada’s own Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Avery Van Voorhis.