William “Billy” Gayle Essex was born in 1921 in Virginia. His mother was Daisy Labelle Stevens and she married George E. Breon in 1928. Bill attended Knoxville High School and the University of Tennessee.

He served on the USS Fiske DE-143, was buried at sea and is memorialized at Lynnhurst Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee and at Cambridge American Cemetery in Cambridge, England.

The USS Fiske reported sonar contact at 1225 on 2 August 1944 and a plane reported the USS Fiske torpedoed amidships, port side at 1236. Latitude 47-10N, Longtitude 32-30W.  The U.S.S. Farquhar (DE-139) began a search at 1245 in the area with the U.S.S. Douglas L. Howard. USS Fiske’s bow and stern were floating. Many life rafts floating, loaded with man. The Farquhar  began picking up survivors while USS Douglas L. Howard screened the area.  Recovered FXR gear. Planes patrolling the area. At 1342 the bow of USS Fiske sinks. At 1618  the Farquhar  completed picking up visible suvivors. Total survivors picked up – 186 (11 officers and 175 men). Four of the men received were dead. About fifty hospital cases, approximately half being stretcher cases. Mostly fractures of lower limbs.
At 1650 the USS Farquhar  began patrolling the area while USS Douglas L. Howard sinks the stern section of the USS Fiske.

At 1930 burial services were held for;
Bertram Marion Engelman, CRM(AA), USN
Robert Glen Pumphrey, CMoMM(AA), USN
William Gaile Essex, FC2c, USNR
Theodore Askew, StM1c, USNR

From the University of Tennessee Aliminum
William Gaile Essex, Petty O. 1/c
The sinking of the destroyer escort Fiske in the Atlantic Ocean by a torpedo launched from a German U-boat resulted in the death of Petty Officer 1/c William Gayle Essex, son of Mrs. George Breon, 2507 Kincaid Street, Knoxville. Billy was a student in the College of Liberal Arts from 1940 to 1941, and at the same time was employed int he finance department of TVA. Besides his mother, he is survived by his stepfather, George Breon, a halfsister, Mrs. George Snell, of Norfolk, Virginia; two half brothers, Lloyd and David Breon.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 23, 1945
Tears from mixed pride and sadness came to the eyes of Mrs. George Brean, 2507 Kincaid Street, this week when she opened some mail from the United States Navy Department. Her son, Fire Controlman Second Class, William G. (Billy) Essex, was killed when his ship, the U.S.S. Fiske was torpedoed last August, This mail brought back the memories of that, but it contained the Purple Heart, and Gold Star for her to keep in his memory. Too, she has a letter telling her son’s name has been place don a list of Navy heroes after whom destroyers may be named. Billy Essex had been in the Navy two years when he was killed. He attended U-T two years, and was with TVA just prior to going into the service.

  • Rank: Fire Controller First Class
  • Date of birth:
  • 23 October 1921
  • Date of death: 2 August 1944
  • County: Knox
  • Hometown: Knoxville
  • Service Branch: Navy
  • Division/Assignment: USS Fiske (DE-143)
  • Theater: Europe
  • Conflict: World War II
  • Awards: Purple Heart
  • Burial/Memorial Location: Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England
  • Location In Memorial: Pillar VIII, Top Panel
  • Contact us to sponsor William G. Essex

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