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First Name: John

Last Name: Powers

Birthplace: New York City, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Home of Record: NY
Middle Name: James

Date of Birth: 03 July 1912

Date of Death: 08 May 1942

Rank or Rate: Lieutenant

Years Served: 1935 - 1942
John James Powers

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John James Powers

Lieutenant, U.S. Navy

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Lieutenant John James Powers (3 July 1912 - 8 May 1942) was a U.S. Navy officer and aviator who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions during World War II.

John James Powers was born in New York City on 3 July 1912 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1935. After serving at sea for five years, he underwent flight training, reporting 21 January 1941 to Bombing Squadron 5, attached to the USS Yorktown (CV-5). As the fleet moved to prevent further Japanese expansion in the Solomons, Powers took part in the 4 May 1942 raid on Tulagi, flying without fighter cover to score two hits on Japanese ships.

As the Battle of the Coral Sea developed on 7 May, Powers and his companions discovered carrier Shōhō and, bombing at extremely low altitudes, sank her in 10 minutes. Next morning, while the carrier battle continued, he joined the attack on Shokaku, scoring an important bomb hit. In a September 1942 radio address to the nation, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "During the first two days [of the Battle of the Coral Sea], Lieutenant Powers, flying a divebomber in the face of blasting enemy anti-aircraft fire, demolished one large enemy gunboat, put another gunboat out of commission, severely damaged an aircraft tender and a twenty thousand ton transport, and scored a direct hit on an aircraft carrier which burst into flames and sank soon after."

His low-bombing run, however, brought Powers into heavy anti-aircraft fire, and his plane plunged into the sea. Powers was declared dead and, for his actions in this series of attacks, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Speaking at length about Lt. Powers in a September 1942 radio address, President Roosevelt remarked that "He led [his squadron] down to the target from an altitude of 18,000 feet, through a wall of bursting anti-aircraft shells and swarms of enemy planes. He dived almost to the very deck of the 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 two hundred feet, amid a terrific barrage of shell and bomb fragments, smoke, flame and debris from the stricken vessel. His own plane was destroyed by the explosion of his own bomb. But he had made good his promise to 'lay it on the flight deck.'"

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy.

Citation: 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 5, Lt. Powers participated, with his squadron, in 5 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 2 close misses, 1 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 antiaircraft 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 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. I am going to get a hit if I 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.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Air Medal with 1 Gold Star


His mother christened the USS John J. Powers (DE-528), which was named after him, in February 1944.

There is a plaque bearing his name in Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant John James Powers was killed in action on 8 May 1942. His body was lost at sea. There is a cenotaph monument to him at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY.

Honoree ID: 1605   Created by: MHOH




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