Max Eugene Eaken was born on July 15, 1926, in Medina, Medina, Ohio, and grew up in the same place. According to the U.S. 1940 Census, he was the only child of Archie and Joyce Eaken, and he grew up in Medina attending its local schools. Both his parents were from Ohio. Max’s father worked as an engineer for Medina’s village waterworks while Max spent his time listening to or playing music and hunting. He was a member of the high school’s marching band during his freshman year. He also enjoyed football, basketball, and baseball. Max enlisted in the U.S. Navy during his senior year at Medina High School. He was, however, rewarded his diploma. After his graduation in 1944, he began his training at Great Lakes, Illinois on October 21, 1944. In November, he trained with Company 1993 as an Apprentice Seaman.
After training, he was moved to Camp Shoemaker (TADCEN) where he continued to train until he was assigned to and boarded USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) on January 23, 1945. At this point in time, he was a Seaman Second Class. It was also at this time that Bunker Hill was named the flagship for Task Force 58. Max served as both a mess cook and as a gunner for the aircraft carrier. He and the Bunker Hill took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Bunker Hill struck the island and gave land support for the ground troops. After Iwo Jima, they sailed towards Tokyo, and then Okinawa. After about a month of being aboard the Bunker Hill, Max and the other new crewmates were elated because of the raids on Tokyo. They went to “relax” at Ulithi Atoll where the beach and beer were enjoyed. On April 7, Bunker Hill plane's sunk the infamous Japanese battleship, Yamato. The Bunker Hill went to refuel southwest of Okinawa.
On the morning of May 11, 1945, Bunker Hill was setting up their planes on the flight deck, fueling them for another land support operation for the troops on Okinawa. Max was at his battle station, manning the aircraft carrier’s guns as bogies were reported in the area. It was a false alarm and the sailors and marines went back to their morning routines. Fresh fruit had finally been served for breakfast that morning after a long period without them. At 1005, local time, a Japanese zero was seen darting through the light overcast of clouds. It came directly for the Bunker Hill, possibly for revenge for sinking the Yamato. The zero dropped its 550-pound bomb which crashed through the side of the carrier and landed in the water. The bomb then exploded killing the men on the side of the carrier, manning the guns. Max was most likely there. If the bomb did not kill him, the Zero did. It crashed right into the flight deck, where all the fueled up planes were waiting for takeoff. Another Zero came streaking in, this time crashing into the carrier’s bridge and deck. 392 sailors and marines died as a result of the two kamikazes that day. The fallen sailors and marines who were not lost were buried at sea the next day. Captain Seitz wrote to Max’s father, explaining that Max likely died painlessly, and he was the type of “blue jacket the Navy needed”. He was well-liked among his fellow shipmates and officers.
Since Max was buried at sea, cenotaphs were made for him. His name is inscribed on the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific’s Tablets of the Missing. There are two cenotaphs in Ohio. One in Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery and another at Spring Grove Cemetery in his hometown, Medina.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smartphone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen's name and read his/her story.
Max, thank you for your sacrifice.