PORTER W. MAXWELL, CDR, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Porter Maxwell '36

Date of birth: October 15, 1913

Date of death: July 24, 1945

Age: 31

Lucky Bag

From the 1936 Lucky Bag:

Loss

1936 Maxwell 1.jpg

Porter was lost when his F6F-5 Hellcat was shot down near Kure, Japan, on July 24, 1945. He was commanding officer of Bombing Fighting Squadron (VBF) 87 from the decks of USS Ticonderoga (CV 14); he had taken command on January 2, 1945.

1936 Maxwell 2.jpg

From the an article on James Vernon, a pilot in Porter's squadron, in the Ventura County Star on August 6, 2008:

Much of the flying that Vernon's group did involved trying to find the bases where kamikaze aircraft were hiding and put them out of commission before they attacked the American fleet.

"Kamikazes killed about 10,000 American sailors," he said. "We tried to find them before they found us."

During one such mission, Vernon was wingman to the squadron leader, Cmdr. Porter Maxwell. They were not facing fighter plane opposition, but there was a great deal of antiaircraft fire from the Kure Naval Base, he said.

Flying south and then east of Hiroshima over Niihama Bay, Vernon said, "the skipper was on my left and all of a sudden, I noticed what looked like debris coming from his tail. It just seemed to fall apart."

Vernon recounts what happened next in his book, "The Hostile Sky":

"The skipper's canopy opened, he stood up, his parachute streamed out and jerked him clear of the plane. The Hellcat hit the water with the skipper a few feet to the right of it.

His parachute didn't blossom to check his fall; he plunged feet first into the murky shallow water and disappeared."

His wife was listed as next of kin. Porter is buried and has a separate memory marker in West Virginia.

Remembrances

From The Hostile Sky: A Hellcat Flyer in World War II By James Vernon:

The commanding officer, Commander Porter W. Maxwell, USN, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1936, was among the last officers to report. He had a reputation as a no-nonsense, stern, and aloof man. That was an understatement. He carried his slender, well-proportioned, six-foot-three-inch frame gracefully. His narrow, spare face with a full mouth, slender nose, and narrow chin made a striking impression, like the Indian warrior chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. His eyes, large and bulging, were most impressive. When he first fixed them them on me with one of his intense stares, I knew how a webbed fly must feel as the spider approaches. They were a challenge to see if you would stare back. No one did. A least I didn't. I had the feeling he made a penetrating visual evaluation and established dominance much like male dogs do when, with legs stiff, tail high, and a fixed stare, they circle a stranger. I knew I would take no liberties with him. "He's got gun-muzzle eyes and a rifle barrel up his ass," Dick said. "They're standard issue at the naval academy, you know." After a few weeks, he seemed to relax a little, but I saw no indication that he formed friendships with anyone. He suffered from the loneliness-of-the-leader syndrome.

Together, Maxwell, the skipper, and Haas, the executive oficer, had the needed experience to train this new type of squadron. Maxwell had combat experience in the Solomon Islands flying dive-bombers and had headed a dive-bomber training program in Florida before he had become commanding officer of VB-87 at Wildwood. …

VBF-87 was among the first bombing-fighting squadrons in the Navy. With that distinction came the problem of determining to what extent the Hellcat fighter could play the role of dive-bomber.

The portion of the book that details Porter's loss is not included in the google preview, but the following is:

Writing such letters was a painful experience for the commander. The widow would have received through official channels a telegram: "We regret to inform you that your husband . . ." with no specifics. The details in the commander's letter would be a second shock to the wife and family, and a delayed sorrow for his newborn when old enough to grasp the truth. I envisioned photographs of the skipper hung in some honored niche in their shattered household, a superficial image of a deep, talented, and brave man. I also thought of the quirkiness of fate, that the bullets that downed him had missed me, flying only yards away from him.

The unofficial comments among the pilots had a different tone from the official debriefings. I wondered why the skipper had fired his rockets at the tanker at such long range that they hit far off the target Several men could not understand why he led us at low altitude needlessly through a known heavy concentration of antiaircraft batteries in the Kure area and why he took no evasive actions when flak burst thick among us. Why did he deviate from the strike plan? He led us far from the planned route, making it doubtful that we would have enough fuel to return to the carrier. Why was he so slow to respond to the sighting of the two seaplanes? Why didn't he take evasive action after the strafing run at Niihama? There may have been reasonable answers to those questions, but they died with him. And who would have asked them had he lived? Not I.

Silver Star

From Hall of Valor:

SYNOPSIS: Commander Porter W. Maxwell, United States Navy, was awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in connection with military operations against the enemy as Commanding Officer of Fighting Bombing Squadron EIGHTY-SEVEN (VFB-87), embarked in U.S.S. TICONDEROGA (CV-14), in action against the Japanese on 24 July 1945. His gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for his own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 348 (March 1946)
Action Date: July 24, 1945
Service: Navy
Battalion: Fighting Bombing Squadron 87 (VFB-87)
Division: U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CV-14)

Distinguished Flying Cross

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander [then Lieutenant] Porter W. Maxwell, United States Navy, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight while piloting a dive bomber in the Solomon Islands area from 3 October to 8 November 1942. Commander Maxwell fought with outstanding skill and released his bombs on enemy surface forces, ground installations and troop concentrations. On 8 October he led his flight in an attack on the Japanese fleet near Guadalcanal and scored direct hits on a heavy cruiser.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 333 (December 1944)
Action Date: October 3 - November 8, 1942
Service: Navy
Rank: Commander

Distinguished Flying Cross

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander [then Lieutenant] Porter W. Maxwell, United States Navy, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight while piloting a dive bomber in the Solomon Islands area from 3 October to 8 November 1942. Commander Maxwell fought with outstanding skill and released his bombs on enemy surface forces, ground installations and troop concentrations. On 8 October he led his flight in an attack on the Japanese fleet near Guadalcanal and scored direct hits on a heavy cruiser.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 333 (December 1944)
Action Date: October 3 - November 8, 1942
Service: Navy
Rank: Commander

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

July 1936

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: LT Raymond Tuttle '22, LT William Hobby, Jr. '23, ENS Joel Davis, Jr. '35, ENS Samuel Adams '35, and ENS Jack Crutchfield '36.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Alden Irons '31 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 2B) and ENS Stanley Lipski '35 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 2B).

January 1937

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: LT Raymond Tuttle '22, ENS Joel Davis, Jr. '35, ENS Samuel Adams '35, and ENS Jack Crutchfield '36.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Alden Irons '31 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 2B) and ENS Stanley Lipski '35 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 2B).

April 1937

Ensign, USS Tennessee

Others at this command: LT Raymond Tuttle '22, ENS Samuel Adams '35, ENS Stanley Lipski '35, and ENS Jack Crutchfield '36.

Others at or embarked at this command: LTjg Alden Irons '31 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 2B) and ENS Joel Davis, Jr. '35 (Observation Plane Squadron (VO) 2B).

July 1938

Ensign, USS New York

Others at this command: LT Eugene Sarsfield '26 and ENS James Southerland, II '36.

January 1939

Ensign, USS New York

Others at this command: ENS James Southerland, II '36.

October 1939

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS Kane

Others at this command: LTjg John Hays '36.

June 1940

Lieutenant (j.g.), USS Kane

November 1940

Lieutenant (j.g.), under instruction, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida

Others at this command: LCDR George Grove '15, CDR William Sample '19, LT Finley Hall '29, LT John Yoho '29, LT William Pennewill '29, LT Lance Massey '30, LT Albert Major, Jr. '32, LT Daniel Gothie '32, LT Dewitt Shumway '32, LT George Bellinger '32, LT John Spiers '32, LT Martin Koivisto '32, ENS Frank Peterson '33, LTjg John Phillips, Jr. '33, LTjg Charles Ware '34, LTjg Charles Brewer '34, CAPT Floyd Parks '34, LTjg Frank Whitaker '34, LTjg George Nicol '34, LTjg Philip Torrey, Jr. '34, LTjg Walker Ethridge '34, LTjg Allan Edmands '35, LTjg John Powers '35, LTjg Richard Stephenson '35, LTjg Victor Gadrow '35, LTjg Roy Krogh '36, LTjg Frank Henderson, Jr. '37, LTjg John Thomas '37, LTjg John Boal '37, LTjg Richard Hughes '37, ENS Alphonse Minvielle '38, ENS Carl Holmstrom '38, ENS Charles Anderson '38, ENS Charles King '38, ENS Charles Reimann '38, ENS Curtis Howard '38, ENS Donald Smith '38, 2LT Douglas Keeler '38, ENS Edmundo Gandia '38, ENS Eric Allen, Jr. '38, ENS Frank Quady '38, ENS Frank Case, Jr. '38, ENS Harry Bass '38, ENS Harry Howell '38, ENS Howard Clark '38, ENS Howard Fischer '38, ENS James Ginn '38, 2LT James Owens '38, ENS Jep Jonson '38, ENS John Kelley '38, ENS John Erickson '38, 2LT John Maclaughlin, Jr. '38, ENS John Eversole '38, ENS Leonard Thornhill '38, ENS Marion Dufilho '38, ENS Osborne Wiseman '38, ENS Oswald Zink '38, ENS Richard Crommelin '38, ENS Robert Seibels, Jr. '38, ENS Roy Green, Jr. '38, ENS Roy Hale, Jr. '38, ENS William Brady '38, ENS William Tate, Jr. '38, and ENS William Lamberson '38.

April 1941

Lieutenant (j.g.), Scouting Squadron (VS) 71, USS Wasp

Others at this command: LT John Eldridge, Jr. '27, LT Baylies Clark '30, LTjg Dewitt Harrell '35, LTjg Donald Patterson '37, and ENS Frank Case, Jr. '38.

Others at or embarked at USS Wasp: LCDR Rogers Elliott '22 (USS Wasp), LT John Burke '28 (USS Wasp), LTjg James Fitzpatrick, Jr. '35 (Fighting Squadron (VF) 72), LTjg Mark Eslick, Jr. '35 (Scouting Squadron (VS) 72), LTjg Webster Johnson '36 (Fighting Squadron (VF) 72), ENS Alphonse Minvielle '38 (Scouting Squadron (VS) 72), ENS John Smith '38 (USS Wasp), ENS William Cook '38 (USS Wasp), ENS Lester Wall, Jr. '39 (USS Wasp), and ENS John Nichols, Jr. '41 (USS Wasp).


Class of 1936

Porter is one of 39 members of the Class of 1936 on Virtual Memorial Hall.