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Tilmon David Browning
1925-1941

"Pearl Harbor caused our nation to wholeheartedly commit to winning World War II, changing the course of our nation’s history and the world’s future."

Joe Baca

Seaman First Class Tilmon David Browning was born around 1925—in Omar, Logan County, West Virginia. The communal, wooded town of Omar created an adequate atmosphere for Browning’s childhood as he lived with his small family. Tilmon was the son of Dewey Tilmon Browning and Eula M. Conley Browning. He had a sister, Quindora, who was two years younger. As a child, Tilmon presumably went to Omar Elementary School. One news report states that at the time of his death he was 17 years old and “a former student of Logan senior high school.” (“Navy Reports David Browning as ‘Missing,’” Logan County News, 25 December 1941.) Leaving high school, soon he would enlist in the U.S. Navy.

In 1938, the U.S. Navy recorded just over 2,000 enlistments. By the time Browning enlisted, the number of enlistments increased to 348,683. Tilmon enlisted on December 21, 1940, when he was just 15 or 16, not a lawful enlistment, but probably not uncommon at the time. Navy muster rolls show that from the USS Wharton, his first assignment, he was transferred to the battleship USS Arizona on April 4, 1941. After his induction into the U.S. Navy, Tilmon was eventually promoted from apprentice seaman to seaman second class, and finally advanced to S1c—seaman first class, all within the same year. As a seaman first class, Tilmon could be recognized by the three white stripes on his upper sleeve (left). The seaman first class is often referred to as a “striker,” because he learns skills through on-the-job training as a seaman, an airman, a hospitalman, a fireman, or a constructionman. His duties as an S1c were to know naval drill duties, stand watch, and retain his gunnery duties. He was also required to know how to tie knots, how to steer, and how to signal to his fellow seamen. (Will Charpentier, “Navy Seaman 1st Class Duties,” 9 November 2016, Chron.com, accessed 12 May 2017, http://work.chron.com/navy-seaman-1st-class-duties-13325.html.)
Seaman First Class patch

Patch for Seaman First Class

USS Arizona

USS Arizona, circa 1924. USAR-311. Courtesy National Park Service

On the day of Tilmon’s death, December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, was attacked by Japanese forces. Prior to the attack, the USS Arizona and its crew had been on an alert status all week long until the morning of the attack. At 7:55 a.m., the USS Arizona’s air raid alarm went off, and men on the ship went to their battle stations to begin defending Hawaii. Shortly after 8:00, ten Nakijama B5N torpedo bombers began to drop bombs on and in the surrounding area of the USS Arizona. As several bombs exploded in the ships, fires surged aboard the Arizona and subsequently killed 1,117 of 1,512 crewmen on board at the time. The Logan County News (published by Tilmon’s uncle George C. Steele) reported on January 15, 1942, that on December 9, Tilmon—aged only 16 or 17 at the time—was reported killed in action. The article states that his cousins Carson Browning Jr. and George Steele Jr. were joining the armed forces to avenge the death of Tilmon.
USS Arizona burning

USS Arizona burning, late morning, Dec. 7, 1941. USAR-39. Courtesy National Park Service

After the war, Tilmon received several posthumous awards. These awards included a Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a star, and the World War II Victory Medal.

S1c Tilmon David Browning is commemorated at the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, as it marks the resting place of the more than one thousand sailors and marines killed on the ship. Browning’s name may also be found engraved in one of the four monoliths located at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston. The memorial recognizes and honors Browning, among others, and his sacrifice in defending the nation in 20th century conflicts.
USS Arizona Memorial

The USS Arizona Memorial today. Oil can still be seen leaking from the submerged battleship. U.S. Navy photo

Article prepared by Tristan Dinh, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
2017

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Tilmon David Browning

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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