WWII MOH Recipient Lt. John James Powers – “Jack”, “Jo-Jo”

 In History, Military, Veterans

President Trump spoke on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 5.  From the deck of the USS Intrepid, he delivered remarks honoring the veterans of both the United States and Australia who fought in the battle. He also spoke of MOH recipient John James Powers, whose daring exploits during the battle helped to cripple the Japanese Navy.

In addition to the 656 American troops who died, seven US veterans from that battle attended the speech, and according to Breitbart, the President named every one of them one by one. He also acknowledged the Australian contribution to the battle…something they have done for us through the years. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was at Trump’s side as he made his remarks.

John James Powers – AKA Jo-Jo or Jack

Lt. Jack Powers had been in the Navy for 6 years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was in charge of Bombing Squadron 5, which had numerous engagements with the  Japanese in the period between May 4 and May 8, 1942, the days of the battle. He and his squadron were assigned to the USS Yorktown.

The enemy invasion fleet was trying to take Port Moresby, a strategic port in New Guinea.

The battle would engage three Japanese aircraft carriers – Soho, the Shokaku and the Zuikaku. The pilots knew it was an important battle, and they had no idea what to expect. The bombers flew an SPD Douglas Dauntless, which was reportedly difficult to maneuver with a 500- to 1,000-pound bomb on board. Holding a constant dive at the target made the pilots a “sitting duck” for enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.

But Jack Powers, known as “Jo-Jo” by his team members, was adamant that they make real hits with their bombs in spite of the danger.

“This is going to be a very important battle. I am committed to do all I possibly can to get a hit with my bomb. Our country is depending on us to do every bit we can and to press the attack without regard for our own safety.” Lt Powers’ pep talk to his dive bombers

Lt Powers made good on his own words. He perished in the battle, his body never recovered.

Lt John James Powers-photo via wikimedia

His Medal of Honor citation read, in part:

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 3 Douglas Dauntless dive bombers, to attack the carrier. On this occasion he dived in the face of heavy antiaircraft 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, Lt. 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. 1 am going to get a hit if 1 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 antiaircraft shells and into the face of enemy fighter planes.

Again, completely disregarding the safety altitude and without fear or concern for his safety, Lt. 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.

How many lives that action ultimately may have saved is unknown. The enemy was unable to take Port Moresby after all and slinked off with their crippled carriers. Japan claimed the victory because during the battle, the USS Lexington was sunk. But the Japanese carrier Soho was lost in the battle, and the other two, the Shokaku and the Zuikaku had to be taken out of action from severe damage. The very next engagement with the enemy was at Midway- which was a decisive win for the Americans because three Japanese aircraft carriers were missing.

President Trump honored the sacrifices of Powers and others with these words:

“Now it is we who are thinking of Jack, and all those brave souls who fought alongside of him – with that incredible form of attack – and especially those who found their final resting place beneath the waters where they waged that greatest of battles.  They lost their lives in the fires of war, but gained immortality through their sacrifice.

And now, 75 years later, we hope that we are worthy of their deeds in the beautiful, beautiful Coral Sea.  We hope to be worthy of the sacrifices made by every service member who has fought in our name – past and present.” President Donald Trump


Featured image: USS Yorktown with Dauntless Dive Bombers preparing to launch. Photo via DelsJourney

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