Thomas (Mack) Wilhoite - This young man is who our wonderful
ship is named after - USS Wilhoite
Thomas Mack Wilhoite—born on 12 February 1921 in Guthrie, Ky.—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 7 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 6 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 8 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 stafing. 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."