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South Valley Riverton Journal

Former naval gunner Ivan L. Bills awarded Silver Star posthumously for heroic actions during Battle of Okinawa

Jun 06, 2023 08:51AM ● By Dylan Wilcox

Ivan “Ike” L. Bills Gunner’s Mate Third Class, a former naval gunner during World War II, has been awarded the Silver Star posthumously. Eighty years ago, Bills was killed in action while serving on the USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) during the Battle of Okinawa.

Bills, a native of Riverton, Utah, was a brave sailor who served his country with honor during World War II. He was born on Nov. 24, 1923, to Raymond and Della L. Crane Bills, and was the seventh of eight children in the family. Unfortunately, Bills’ father passed away in 1925, leaving his mother to raise the children on her own.

After graduating from Jordan High School, Ike signed his draft registration on June 30, 1942. 

He was described as 5’8” tall, weighing 135 pounds, with grey eyes, brown hair, a dark complexion and a scar on his right wrist. On Nov. 17, 1942, he joined the Naval Reserves in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bills was trained at Farragut, Idaho, and served on the USS Doherty before being assigned to the USS Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774). The ship was commissioned in December of 1944 and left San Diego for the Pacific War in January 1945. It was on this ship that Bills made naval history. On May 11, 1945, during a 95-minute air/sea battle at Okinawa, the USS Hugh W. Hadley came under attack from Japanese kamikaze planes. Bills’ ship managed to shoot down an astonishing 23 kamikazes, while also enduring five hits from planes and bombs. Sadly, 30 of Ike’s shipmates were killed in action during this battle.

Gunner’s Mate Third Class Bills was one of the casualties on that fateful day, and he was buried at sea. Ike’s brave actions during the battle did not go unnoticed, and he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his heroism. 

During the Battle of Okinawa, the USS Hadley was ordered out to Radar Picket station No. 15 to provide early warning of enemy planes to the fleet anchored at Okinawa. On May 11, 1945, the ship was attacked by five raids totaling 56 planes. They shot down 23 planes – a naval record for a single engagement – and were hit by three kamikazes and two bombs. Bills was among the nine men who kept a 40mm gun firing as a kamikaze crashed into their position. All the men on that gun mount were killed. They received recognition for “outstanding performance of duty,” by Hadley’s Executive Officer.

Trenton Oakeson, a great grandnephew of Bills from Huntington, Utah said “Ivan Bills is my great uncle. I will never forget the sacrifices of the men of USS Hugh W. Hadley.”

Bills’ Silver Star award reads: “Gunners Mate Third Class Ivan Leroy Bills, USNR, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in the action against the enemy off Okinawa, Nansei Shoto, Japan on May 11, 1945, as a member of the crew of an air defense gun on the USS Hugh W. Hadley. When the blast of a bomb caused Gunner’s Mate Third Class Bills and other members of the crew to be blown a considerable distance from their gun, Gunner’s Mate Third Class Bills re-manned his station and with outstanding courage and coolness resumed fire at an enemy plane diving at him and repeatedly hit the enemy plane whose crash finally resulted in his death. His courage, conduct and outstanding performance of duty throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

The Silver Star citation reads: “Mr. Bills, in action against enemy Japanese forces off Okinawa May 11, 1945, was blown from his gun mount by the blast from an enemy bomb. He instantly returned his gun to aid shipmates firing at an enemy plane plunging toward them. After riddling the plane with bullets, it crashed into the mount killing Mr. Bills and his fellow crew members. For his conspicuous gallantry and indomitable spirit in the face of almost certain death, the president of the United States awards Mr. Bills, posthumously, the Silver Star medal.”

Although Bills and six of the men were reported as buried at sea, in truth, none of these men were ever found. They were all blown out to sea. Bills’ memory lives on in monuments at Memory Grove Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, and in the Honolulu Hawaii National Memorial Cemetery. Ike Bills was a true American hero, and his bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten. λ