In 1941, at the beginning of World War II he assumed command of Pacific Destroyer Division Eleven followed by command of Destroyer Squadron Five. He was awarded the Navy Cross for Action with Destroyer Squadron Five against superior Japanese Forces at the battle of Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October 1942. In November of 1942, Admiral Cecil assumed command of the USS HELENA. On 6July 1943 he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in action against Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands. Following several days of shore bombardment against numerous counter-battery fire, and the laying of a mine field in restricted waters in reduced visibility, the Helena participated in a running engagement with numerically superior Japanese Naval Forces. She sank or damaged all hostile fire vessels before-she was mortally hit by enemy torpedo fire.
Subsequent to the sinking of the Helene Admiral Cecil reported for duty as Commander Service Force, pacific Fleet. He was killed in an airplane crash in the Pacific area on 31 July 1944.
DD-835, the USS Charles P. Cecil, was named in honor of this superb seaman, destroyer tactician, and gallant leader whose personal courage and inspiring devotion to duty over his lifetime was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. His widow, Mrs. Charles Purcell Cecil christened this vessel at the launching on 22 April 1945, at the Bath Iron Works Corporation, Bath, Maine. She currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina, and she has been presented a copy of this program along with a brass duplicate of Cecil's commissioning plaque.