Van Voorhis was born on January 29, 1908 in Aberdeen, Washington and grew up in Nevada. He was appointed to the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in June 1925 and graduated on June 6, 1929. Ensign Van Voorhis was first assigned to USS Mississippi (BB-41) until November 1930 then transferred to the Naval Air Station Pensacola for flight training and received his wings on September 3, 1931. Afterwards, assigned to Observation Squadron 4B (VO-4B) aboard USS Maryland (BB-46). In June 1934, he transferred to Bombing Squadron 5B aboard USS Ranger (CV-4) then to VB-2B aboard USS Saratoga (CV-3).
During July 1935 until May 1937, he served in the Panama Canal Zone and flew patrols from Coco Solo with Patrol Squadron 2F (VP-2F). In June 1937, Van Voorhis was assigned to USS Enterprise (CV-6), then USS Yorktown (CV-5), and the back to USS Enterprise (CV-6). In June 1940, Van Voorhis joined the aviation unit assigned to USS Honolulu (CL-48) for a year. In July 1941, he was assigned to Naval Air Station Anacostia until November 1942.
During December 1942, Lieutenant Commander Van Voorhis became the commander of VP-14, but soon after took command of VB-102.
On July 6, 1943 piloted PB4Y-1 Liberator 31992 on a volunteer reconnaissance mission over Kapingamarangi (Greenwich). Likely caught by its own bomb blast or accurate anti-aircraft fire, the bomber crashed into the lagoon only 700 meters from the base, near the beach area it was attacking. When the Liberator failed to return, he and the entire crew was declared Missing In Action (MIA)
|Medal of Honor (July 6, 1943) Posthumous
Citation: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Squadron Commander of Bombing Squadron 102 and as Plane Commander of a PB4Y-I Patrol Bomber operating against the enemy on Japanese-held Greenwich Island during the battle of the Solomon Islands, 6 July 1943. Fully aware of the limited chance of surviving an urgent mission, voluntarily undertaken to prevent a surprise Japanese attack against our forces, Lt. Comdr. Van Voorhis took off in total darkness on a perilous 700-mile flight without escort or support. Successful in reaching his objective despite treacherous and varying winds, low visibility and difficult terrain, he fought a lone but relentless battle under fierce antiaircraft fire and overwhelming aerial opposition. Forced lower and lower by pursuing planes, he coolly persisted in his mission of destruction. Abandoning all chance of a safe return he executed six bold ground-level attacks to demolish the enemy's vital radio station, installations, antiaircraft guns and crews with bombs and machine gun fire, and to destroy one fighter plane in the air and three on the water. Caught in his own bomb blast, Lt. Comdr. Van Voorhis crashed into the lagoon off the beach, sacrificing himself in a single-handed fight against almost insuperable odds, to make a distinctive contribution to our continued offensive in driving the Japanese from the Solomons and, by his superb daring, courage and resoluteness of purpose, enhanced the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country."
Van Voorhis was officially declared dead the day of the mission. After his remains were recovered, he and the crew were buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in a group burial at section 79 graves 279-281 buried on March 15, 1950, including Barker, Linzmeyer, Martinelli, Oehlert, Renner
and Van Voorhis. At Arlington National Cemetery, Van Voorhis has a memorial marker at section MI site 86.
The U.S. Navy Dealey class destroyer escort USS Van Voorhis (DE-1028) was named in honor of LCDR Van Voorhis was on commissioned April 22, 1957 and decommissioned on July 1, 1972. The airfield at Naval Air Station Fallon is was renamed Van Voorhis Field in his honor. Van Voorhis Elementary School in Fort Knox, Kentucky is named after Van Voorhis. There is also a United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps unit name the Van Voorhis squadron in Las Vegas, NV.