JOHN J. POWERS, LT, USN
John Powers '35
Date of birth: July 13, 1912
Date of death: May 8, 1942
From the 1935 Lucky Bag:
On May 8, 1942, 24 SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Yorktown (CV 5) commenced an attack on the Japanese fleet carrier IJN Shokaku in the Coral Sea. As each bomber nosed over in near-vertical dives from 18,000 feet on the wildly maneuvering Shokaku, their windscreens and bomb sights fogged over so badly during the descent that the U.S. pilots were blinded, forced to release their bombs “by memory.”
Although one bomb hit the Shokaku very near the bow and started a serious fire, one bomb after another missed.
Finally one SBD, piloted by Lieutenant John Powers (U.S. Naval Academy Class of ’35), his wing on fire after being hit by canon fire from a Japanese Zero fighter, pressed his dive well below the standard minimum pull-up altitude.
Power’s bomb hit Shokaku nearly dead center and caused horrific and nearly fatal damage, starting massive fires and killing over 100 Japanese sailors. Unable to pull up in time, Powers flew through the frag pattern of his own bomb and crashed alongside the Shokaku.
Although 15 dive bombers off the USS Lexington (CV 2) would later manage to hit the Shokaku with one more bomb, it was Power’s bomb that knocked Shokaku out of action for the rest of the battle, leaving her unable to recover aircraft, and with damage so severe that she was unable to participate in the critical and decisive Battle of Midway one month later, where her presence could have easily turned that battle into a catastrophic defeat for the United States.
By the sacrifice of his life and that of his radioman-gunner (Radioman Second Class Everett Clyde Hill), Powers quite likely prevented the loss of the Yorktown at the Battle of the Coral Sea and changed the outcome of two of the most important battles of World War II. For his valor, Powers was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Hill’s parents received his $10,000 G.I. life insurance policy payout.
For sea duty, he reported to USS West Virginia and transferred two years later to USS Augusta. In June 1938, Powers was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade. Remaining at sea, he served on board USS Utah. After completion of flight training at Naval Air Station, Pensacola in January 1941, he was designated a Naval Aviator.
He was assigned January 21, 1941, to Bombing Squadron 5 (flying the SBD Dauntless), attached to the USS Yorktown. As the fleet moved to prevent further Japanese expansion in the Solomons, Powers took part in the May 4, 1942 raid on Tulagi, flying without fighter cover to score two hits on Japanese ships.
Medal of Honor
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Lieutenant John James Powers (NSN: 0-74968), United States Navy, for distinguished and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, while Pilot of an airplane of Bombing Squadron FIVE (VB-5) attached to the U.S.S. YORKTOWN (CV-5). Lieutenant Powers participated, with his squadron, in five engagements with Japanese forces in the Coral Sea area and adjacent waters during the period 4 to 8 May 1942. Three attacks were made on enemy objectives at or near Tulagi on 4 May. In these attacks he scored a direct hit which instantly demolished a large enemy gunboat or destroyer and is credited with two close misses, one of which severely damaged a large aircraft tender, the other damaging a 20,000-ton transport. He fearlessly strafed a gunboat, firing all his ammunition into it amid intense anti-aircraft fire. This gunboat was then observed to be leaving a heavy oil slick in its wake and later was seen beached on a nearby island. On 7 May, an attack was launched against an enemy airplane carrier and other units of the enemy's invasion force. He fearlessly led his attack section of three Douglas Dauntless dive bombers, to attack the carrier. On this occasion he dived in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, to an altitude well below the safety altitude, at the risk of his life and almost certain damage to his own plane, in order that he might positively obtain a hit in a vital part of the ship, which would insure her complete destruction. This bomb hit was noted by many pilots and observers to cause a tremendous explosion engulfing the ship in a mass of flame, smoke, and debris. The ship sank soon after. That evening, in his capacity as Squadron Gunnery Officer, Lieutenant Powers gave a lecture to the squadron on point-of-aim and diving technique. During this discourse he advocated low release point in order to insure greater accuracy; yet he stressed the danger not only from enemy fire and the resultant low pull-out, but from own bomb blast and bomb fragments. Thus his low-dive bombing attacks were deliberate and premeditated, since he well knew and realized the dangers of such tactics, but went far beyond the call of duty in order to further the cause which he knew to be right. The next morning, 8 May, as the pilots of the attack group left the ready room to man planes, his indomitable spirit and leadership were well expressed in his own words, "Remember the folks back home are counting on us. I am going to get a hit if one have to lay it on their flight deck." He led his section of dive bombers down to the target from an altitude of 18,000 feet, through a wall of bursting anti-aircraft shells and into the face of enemy fighter planes. Again, completely disregarding the safety altitude and without fear or concern for his safety, Lieutenant Powers courageously pressed home his attack, almost to the very deck of an enemy carrier and did not release his bomb until he was sure of a direct hit. He was last seen attempting recovery from his dive at the extremely low altitude of 200 feet, and amid a terrific barrage of shell and bomb fragments, smoke, flame and debris from the stricken vessel.
Action Date: April 04 - 8, 1942
Company: Bombing Squadron 5 (VB-5)
Division: U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5)
USS John J. Powers (DE 528) was named for Jack; the ship was sponsored by his mother.