William B. Ault
Perhaps it was patriotism or adventure that spurred William Ault to join the U.S. Navy during World War I, but it was the beginning of a distinguished career for the young man from Enterprise, Oregon. Born in 1898, Ault enlisted in 1917 and, after a year of duty, was appointed to the Naval Academy, graduating with the class of 1922. Soon after, he was accepted for flight training and received his wings in May 1925. Ault was assigned to the cruiser USS Cincinnati flying a floatplane before tours as an instructor at the Naval Academy and VMO-3. Another assignment to the Academy was followed by tours with VP-10 and VT- 1 aboard the USS Lexington and the USS Mississippi. Ault was next assigned to the fitting out of the new carrier USS Yorktown before going to USS Enterprise to command VT-6. In July 1941, he returned to the Lexington as Air Group Commander, a position he held when Japan struck Pearl Harbor. Then, on May 7, 1942, Ault took Lexington’s airmen into combat and the history books at the Battle of Coral Sea. Flying an SBD Dauntless, he led the attack that sank the Japanese carrier Shōhō. The next day, he scored a hit that disabled the carrier Shōkaku before his SBD was attacked by Japanese fighters, and both Ault and his gunner were wounded. They ditched in the ocean and were never seen again. Commander Ault’s leadership helped turn back Japan at Coral Sea and set the stage for the decisive Battle of Midway. For his courage, he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. The following year, the Navy named the destroyer USS Ault in his honor, as well as the airfield at NAS Whidbey Island; lasting tributes to an Oregonian who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.