Verley was born in Hawkins County, Tennessee on 11 September 1917. He moved to Jonesborough, Washington County, Tennessee and worked at the Gloria Rayon Plant in Johnson City.
Verley enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps on 5 December 1940 at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia with service number 14036302. After completing basic and advanced training, Verley was assigned to the 498th Bomber Squadron, 345th Bomber Group (Medium), 3rd Air Force as a Maintenance Crew Chief maintaining and repairing their B-25 Mitchell bombers. The group was activated on 8 September 1942 at Columbia Army Air Base in Columbia, South Carolina. Verley moved with the group to Walterboro Army Airfield, Walterboro, South Carolina on 6 March 1943, before shipping out for the Pacific on 16 April and being reassigned to the 5th Air Force. After a short stopover in Australia, Verley and the 345th arrived Jackson Airfield in Saraga, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on 5 June 1943. They were the first full Air Force Combat Group to arrive in the Pacific and began combat flying missions on 30 June.
The 345th Bomb Group picked up the moniker of and became infamous as the “Air Apaches” for their low level strafing runs against the Japanese. The new year of 1944 brought about another move for Verley and the 345th, this time to Dobodura Airfield in Popondetta, Papua New Guinea on 18 January. This was only for a short time and they were relocated to Nadzab Airfield in Lae, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea on 16 February. The next relocation in July 1944 saw them moving to Mokmer Airfield on Biak Island in the Netherlands East Indies.
All these relocations kept Verley and the maintenance crews very busy not only keeping the planes in the air, but shifting all those tools, equipment, parts and men from location to location. Their next move was a major one for them and it needed the assistance of the United States Merchant Marine.
Around mid October 1944, the ground forces men of the Air Apaches boarded two Liberty Ships that were taking them to their new airfield location on Dulag, Leyte Island, Philippine Islands. They first had a stop over in Hollandia, New Guinea to join up with four other Merchant vessels and United States Navy escorts. Verley along with half the 345th were on the SS Thomas Nelson while the rest were onboard the SS Morrison R. Waite. They both arrived Leyte Gulf on 29 October and dropped anchor in Dulag Harbor. For some reason the airfield was not ready to accept them, so they were informed they would be staying on the ships for a while. The Thomas Nelson was also carrying barrels of gasoline and munitions in her holds. Verley and his mates were quartered in Hold #4. A Liberty ship has five holds supported by five cargo hatches, #1 being forward and #5 at the rear of the ship.
Tragedy struck on 12 November when both ships were hit by Kamikaze aircraft. The first ship hit at 1029 hours (10:29am) was the Waite on her port (left) side holing the ship and setting fires, but most of the aircraft and her bomb went into the water. The fires were quickly brought under control within 15 minutes with a loss of 21 dead and 43 wounded. The Nelson was not as lucky, she was hit at 1127 hours. The aircraft struck the jumbo boom at Hatch #4 and pieces of the aircraft penetrated the port side, but the worse thing was it’s bomb also penetrated the deck at that location. It took the men 4 1/2 hours to bring the fires under control. As, we mentioned earlier, Verley along with the rest of the Air Apaches onboard the Nelson were in Hold #4. 133 men lost their lives due to this attack to include Verley and another 88 were wounded. Both ships were saved and the Army worked quickly after that to get all the men ashore by nightfall.
Verley was 27 years old. He participated in six Unit Campaigns: Air Offensive, Japan; New Guinea; Northern Solomons; Bismarck Archipelago; Western Pacific and Leyte. He was awarded the Purple Heart medal.
Verley was returned home in early June of 1949 and reinterred at the Liberty Church of the Brethren Cemetery in Colonial Heights, Sullivan County, Tennessee. On 6 Jun his military marker, a flat marble one was ordered by his father and placed there. Verley was reinterred again to where he rests now with his parents at Monte Vista after their deaths. The whereabouts of his military marker is now unknown.
Verley is the son of William Gentry Tate and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Mitchell. He had four other brothers who served in the United States Army during World War II. His brother Hal E. Verley was seriously wounded in Germany during WWII. Verley was married to Chima Caldonia Simpson and they had one son Verley Tate Jr.
In Verley’s last letter to Chima he told her this story about the 345th: “Our group was on the Quiz Kid program, or rather, a question was asked concerning us back there. The question was: What is it the Air Apaches haven’t dropped on the Japs? They didn’t know the answer. It was: The Kitchen Sink. Then a little later, that actually happened. One of our squadrons did drop a sink on the Japs.” In another section of the letter, he stated: “It is very nice to know that wherever a Yank is, we are always welcomed.”
Bio by Allen D. Jackson, USAF (Ret)
Sgt Tate was lost on the Liberty ship S.S. Thomas Nelson
The Kingsport News, 19 April 1949
Funeral services for Sergeant Verley Tate, who was killed November 12, 1944 on Leyte, in the Philippines, will be held at Liberty Church of the Brethren, Kingsport Highway near the Sullivan County line. The Rev. E.J. Row and the Rev. Frank Isenberg will officiate. Burial will be in the church cemetery. The American Legion will hold services at the grave. Sergeant Tate was 26 at the time of his death. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Gentry Tate, Route 4, Jonesboro. Inducted into the Army on December 5, 1940, Sergeant Tate served with the Air Forces ‘Air Apaches’. Survivors include his widow, the former Miss Chima Simpson of Route 4, Jonesboro, and now of Pleasantville, Iowa, one son, Verley Tate Jr., Pleasantville, his parents, one sister, Mrs. Eldridge Simpson, Kingsport Highway, five brothers, Adrian Tate of Johnson City, John B. Tate Jr., Route 4, Jonesboro, Hal E. Tate, Route 1, Johnson City and Ira Tate and Gentry Tate Jr, Jonesboro, one half-sister, Mrs. George Isenberg of Kingsport and three half-brothers, Clifton Tate of Akron, Ohio and Billy and Keith Tate of Kingsport Highway.
- Rank: Sergeant
- Date of birth: 11 September 1917
- Date of death: 12 November 1944
- County: Washington
- Hometown: Jonesboro
- Service Branch: Army/Army Air Forces
- Division/Assignment: 345th Bomber Group, 498th Bomber Squadron
- Theater: Pacific
- Conflict: World War II
- Awards: Purple Heart
- Burial/Memorial Location: Monte Vista Memorial Park, Johnson City, TN
- Location In Memorial: Pillar XIX, Middle Panel
- Contact us to sponsor Verley Tate
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