Trump tells of heroism of Fallon aviator at USNA graduation |

Trump tells of heroism of Fallon aviator at USNA graduation

Steve Ranson
LVN Editor Emeritus
The Churchill County Museum has an exhibit dedicated to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Van Voorhis.
Steve Ranson/LVN

President Donald Trump praised this year’s graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy and what they may face in the future as Navy and Marine Corps officers, but his remarks of sacrifice focused on a Fallon aviator who died in combat almost 75 years ago.

Trump said graduates have walked the same paths of many of the service’s greatest legends who fought at Midway, the Coral Sea and Manilla Bay.

“Here in Annapolis, the glorious past is all around you, and so are the stories of your great heroes,” Trump said.

The president told of the heroism of Lt. Cmdr. Bruce Avery Van Voorhis, who was born in Washington state but grew up in Fallon. His father served as the Indian Service representative at Stillwater. Van Voorhis attended the Oats Park grade school and later graduated from Churchill County High School in 1924 where, according to his biography, his classmates also knew him as “Clint.”

Van Voorhis received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1925 and graduated in 1929. Two years later he earned his pilot’s wings. Trump referred to Van Voorhis as a hero who appears in the pages of old Naval Academy yearbooks

“Beneath his picture in the 1929 Lucky Bag (the yearbook), Bruce’s classmates wrote that he spent most of his time teaching the city slickers from the east the correct pronunciation of Nevada,” Trump said. “And I had to learn that, too, to win the state. Great place.”

Trump won the Republican primary in Nevada but Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the state in the general election.

Troop said Van Voorhis looked at studying as an unnecessary evil and added the decorated Navy war hero was like today’s Navy graduates in many ways.

“Just over a decade after his graduation, Lt. Cmdr. Van Voorhis found himself at war,” Trump said. “Seventy-five years ago this summer, he was in the South Pacific commanding Bombing Squadron 102 during the battle of the Solomon Islands. That was a rough battle. His only brother had been killed at the Bataan Death March. On July 6, Bruce volunteered for a mission to destroy a crucial enemy base.”

Trump said Van Voorhis knew he was going to die but also realized his actions in the South Pacific during the summer of 1943 could prevent a surprise attack on American forces.

“So, his plane took off alone on a 700-mile flight. Bruce flew through the darkness to his target, a tiny speck on the vast open sea,” Trump said. “He braved unrelenting anti-aircraft fire, like nobody had ever seen at that time, and a trail of enemy planes to single-handedly destroy this large enemy base, including multiple fortifications, and a critical communications link. And in this final act of valor, Bruce was caught in the blast of one of his own bombs and perished in a remote lagoon very far from here. His life was lost, but his legacy will live forever.”

Trump said Van Voorhis’ old room at Bancroft Hall commemorates his Congressional Medal of Honor that was awarded to him posthumously. The president also said future Navy aviators will follow Voorhis’ footsteps to flight training at Pensacola, Florida, and many will eventually refine their skills at Fallon’s Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center or Top Gun.

“You may even make it all the way out to the legendary combat-training school known as Top Gun in Bruce’s beloved hometown in Nevada,” Trump said. “There, you will have the honor to take flight from the Voorhis Field, and remember a hero who fought for his country, and died for his homeland, and saved so many lives with his bravery.”

Locally, Churchill County Museum also has an exhibit on Van Voorhis and his contributions to Navy aviation. NAS Fallon’s airfield 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 but still remains the longest in the Navy.

Van Voorhis has a headstone at Arlington National Cemetery, but he is buried in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri.

Like Van Voorhis, Trump said this year’s graduates will serve their country through times of triumph and peril, and the next generation of military leaders will come from their ranks.

“Among your ranks is the next Chester Nimitz, the next Grace Hopper, the next John Lejeune,” Trump pointed out. “Future generations will talk about you. They will tell your stories, speak of your courage, and someone many years from now will be standing right here, in my position, paying tribute to your great service. It will happen. Because you already know the keys to success. You know that as long as we are proud of who we are, and what we are fighting for, we will not fail. We will not fail. We cannot fail. We will always succeed, always.”