U.S. Navy Cmdr. William Edward “Slim” Townsend was born Jan. 7, 1910, in Canton, Ohio. He grew up the oldest of three sons of a Presbyterian Minister.
Success in high school led to his Congressional Appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated from the Academy in June 1932 and was commissioned an Ensign with follow-on orders to USS Omaha. In February 1935, he reported to Pensacola, Florida, for flight training and received his Naval Golden Wings. He was reassigned to Fighting Squadrons 4 and 5 aboard USS Ranger.
In June 1941, he was ordered to USS Enterprise (CV-6) as Flight Officer and Air Officer. During a period when the Enterprise was repeatedly reported sunk by the Japanese but became the first carrier to receive both the Navy and Presidential Unit Combat Citations and, for a time, was the only functioning carrier in the Pacific.
Onboard, Lt. Townsend demonstrated conspicuous gallantry during a multitude of engagements while under enemy attack, one of which resulted in receiving the Silver Star as cited: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while acting as Flight Deck Officer of USS ENTERPRISE during the engagement with enemy Japanese naval units near the Santa Cruz Islands on Oct. 26, 1942. In spite of the tremendous difficulties and great hazards attendant upon the devastating fire from large numbers of enemy aircraft continually attacking the carrier, Lieutenant Commander Townsend, with utter disregard for his own personal safety, coolly and courageously directed the flight deck activities of ENTERPRISE and took immediate action in controlling and extinguishing a blaze which broke out amidst the planes on deck. By his outstanding performance of duty and superb leadership under fire, he was an inspiration to those serving under him and contributed in great measure to the efficient operation of the Air Groups of his carrier.”
In 1938, he built the Townsend family home in Coronado, which remains in the family today. “Slim” remained as Assistant Air Officer and Flight Deck Officer on Enterprise until Jan. 8, 1944, when the F4F he was piloting was lost in the Hawaiian area. He was declared missing, and later declared deceased in 1945.