Vice Admiral John Duncan Bulkeley
(19 August 1911–6 April 1996) was a United States Navy
officer who received the Medal of Honor
for actions in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was also the PT boat skipper who evacuated General MacArthur from Corregidor in the Philippines. The Navy named an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer
after him: USS Bulkeley (DDG-84)
, commissioned in 2001.
Early life and career
Bulkeley was born in New York City
and grew up on a farm in Hackettstown, New Jersey
. Unable to gain an appointment to Annapolis
from his home state of New Jersey
, he gained an appointment from the state of Texas
. Due to budget constraints, only half of the 1933 Academy class received a commission upon graduation. John Bulkeley, noted early on for his intense interest in engineering, joined the Army Air Corps
. Like the flying machines of the day, he landed hard more than once and, after a year, gave up flying for the deck of a cruiser, the USS Indianapolis
, as a commissioned officer in the Navy.
Bulkeley charted an interesting course in his early years and was recognized early on by the Navy's leadership. As a new ensign in the mid-1930s, he took the initiative to remove the Japanese ambassador's briefcase from a stateroom aboard a Washington-bound steamer, delivering it to Naval Intelligence a short swim later. This bold feat, the first of many in his life, did not earn him any medals, but it did get him a swift one-way ticket out of the country and a new assignment as Chief Engineer of a coal-burning gunboat, the USS Sacramento (PG-19), also known in those parts as "The Galloping Ghost of the China Coast". There he met Alice Wood, a young, attractive English girl, at a dinner party aboard HMS Diana. In China, they witnessed the invasion of Swatow and Shanghai by Japanese troops and the bombing of USS Panay (PR-5), the first US Navy ship sunk in World War II.
World War II
At the dawn of World War II, Bulkeley was a lieutenant in command of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three
, a Philippine-based detachment of six motor torpedo boats
. He hit his stride as a daring, resourceful and courageous leader, determined to fight to the last against enemy forces attacking the Philippine Islands. He picked up General of the Army Douglas MacArthur
, his family, and his immediate staff, who had been ordered to flee the Philippines, and took them aboard motor torpedo boats through over of open ocean. On arriving at Mindanao
, MacArthur said, "You have taken me out of the jaws of death. I shall never forget it." Bulkeley earned many of his impressive array of decorations while in command of that squadron and a subsequent one.
In 1944, he went halfway around the world for the Normandy invasion. Bulkeley led torpedo boats and minesweepers in clearing the lanes to Utah Beach, keeping German E-boats from attacking the landing ships along the Mason Line, and picking up wounded sailors from the sinking minesweeper USS Tide, destroyer escort USS Rich, and destroyer USS Corry. As invasion operations wound down, he got command of his first large ship, the destroyer USS Endicott. One month after D-Day, he came to the aid of two British gunboats under attack by two German corvettes. Charging in with only one gun working, he engaged both enemy vessels at point-blank range, sending both to the bottom. When asked, he explained, "What else could I do? You engage, you fight, you win. That is the reputation of our Navy, then and in the future."
During the Korean War
, Bulkeley commanded Destroyer Division 132. After the war, he was Chief of Staff for Cruiser Division Five.
In the early 1960s, Bulkeley commanded Clarksville Base, Tennessee, then a tri-service command under the aegis of the Defense Atomic Support Agency. Having lost none of his wartime daring, Bulkeley was known to test the alertness of the Marines guarding the base by donning a ninja suit, blackening his face and endeavoring to penetrate the classified area after dark without detection. This was a dangerous endeavor, as the Marines carried loaded weapons. Ever popular with his men, who both respected and admired him, Bulkeley could be seen driving around the base in his fire-engine red Triumph TR-3 sports car with a large silver PT boat as a hood ornament.
Promoted to Rear Admiral by President John F. Kennedy, who commanded PT-109 during World War II, Bulkeley was dispatched to command the disputed Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, where he met Cuba's threat to sever water supplies in response to the Bay of Pigs invasion and other assaults by ordering the installation of desalinization equipment to make the base self-sufficient.
Bulkeley retired from active duty in 1967. However, he was recalled to serve as the commander of the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey
(INSURV) which does inspections and surveys of ships prior to their commissioning and deployment. Bulkeley retired from the Navy in 1988, after 55 years of service.
On 6 April 1996, Bulkeley died at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland at age 84. Admiral Bulkeley was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Awards and decorations
Decorations include: the Medal of Honor
, the Navy Cross
, the Army Distinguished Service Cross
with one Oak Leaf Cluster
, a Navy Distinguished Service Medal
, two Silver Stars
, the Legion of Merit
with Combat V, the Purple Heart
twice over, the Philippine Distinguished Conduct Star
, the French Croix de Guerre
Medal of Honor citation
Bulkeley's Medal of Honor citation reads:
- For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty as commander of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, in Philippine waters during the period 7 December 1941 to 10 April 1942. The remarkable achievement of LCDR Bulkeley's command in damaging or destroying a notable number of Japanese enemy planes, surface combatant and merchant ships, and in dispersing landing parties and land-based enemy forces during the 4 months and 8 days of operation without benefit of repairs, overhaul, or maintenance facilities for his squadron, is believed to be without precedent in this type of warfare. His dynamic forcefulness and daring in offensive action, his brilliantly planned and skillfully executed attacks, supplemented by a unique resourcefulness and ingenuity, characterize him as an outstanding leader of men and a gallant and intrepid seaman. These qualities coupled with a complete disregard for his own personal safety reflect great credit upon him and the Naval Service.
Bulkeley in the movies
played squadron commander
Brickley, based on Bulkeley, in the 1945 movie They Were Expendable, John Ford
, assisted by Montgomery, directed. The cast also includes John Wayne
, Ward Bond
, and Donna Reed