John Francis McGrath was born April 20, 1925 in Troy, New York the youngest of seven children of parents Edward P. McGrath and Mary C. McGrath. Growing up, his father worked an electric contractor. His family attended St. Patrick’s Church in Troy, NY. John attended St. Peter's School and graduated from Catholic Central High School (CCHS) as part of the class of 1941. Today, the school is West Hall Building on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) campus. He enjoyed playing golf and was member of the Frear Park Golf Team. After graduating, he worked for Western Electric Company until entering the military.
On February 13, 1943 McGrath enlisted in the U. S. Navy (USN). His first assignment was NPFS Chapel Hill from May 6, 1943 until June 27, 1943. Next to NAS Glenview in Illinois for primary flight training between July 30, 1943 until October 23, 1943. Then to NAS Corpus Christi between October 24, 1943 to May 10, 1944.
On May 10, 1944 assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with service number O-037237. Finally, to NAS Jacksonville in Florida for fighter training between May 11, 1944 to July 16, 1944. On August 15, 1944 assigned to VMF-481 at El Toro in California. Transfered on October 11, 1944 to VMF-462 also at El Toro until November 3, 1944.
On December 18, 1944 assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 212 (VMF-212) "Hell Hounds / The Musketeers" as an fighter pilot flying the F4U Corsair. By July 1945 his squadron was operating from Kadena Airfield on Okinawa. On July 20, 1945 during rest and recuperation (R&R) on the last day of his rest and recuperation, McGrath flew his Corsair to Motoyama No. 1 Airfield (Central Field) on Iwo Jima to visit his hometown friends: S1c Howard McAlonie and Abbot Hope outside their tent near the invasion beach. Afterwards, he flew back to Okinawa and returned to combat duties.
On July 21, 1945 took off from Kadena Airfield on Okinawa piloting F4U Corsair 80195 armed with rockets on a ground attack mission over Iriomote Jima. The formation was included 24 Corsairs led by Major John P. McMahon C. O. of VMF-212 and included a dozen Corsairs from VMF-212 plus a dozen from VMF-223.
The primary target was Sonai where a small chemical plant and administrative center were hit by 59 rockets and thoroughly strafed, without any observed result. Other targets included Hatoma Jima and Kobama Jima.
Over Sonai, this aircraft was seen in a rocket dive and observed to crash into the sea several hundred yards southwest of the town at 2:35pm. The cause of the crash was unknown. When this aircraft failed to return, McGrath was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
Major John P. McMahon letter to the McGrath family after his loss:
"He [McGrath] was fourth of the division to go into a dive for the strike, and somehow he never came out of his dive. His plane was seen to crash and explode into the sea near the target. Enemy aircraft fire was encountered by other members on the strike, but the exact cause of his crash remains unknown. Lt McGrath's death was attributed to the explosion following the fatal crash. - Major John P. McMahon."
McGrath was officially declared dead on July 21, 1945. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) with gold star, Air Medal with six gold stars and the Purple Heart, posthumously. McGrath is memorialized on the courts of the missing at the Honolulu Memorial at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on court 4. He also has a memorial marker at Saint Agnes Cemetery in Menands, NY at section 4, plot 90.
Edward P. McGrath (father died 1951)
Mary C. McGrath
(mother died 1951)
Edward "Ned" P. McGrath, Jr. (brother died)
William Paul McGrath (brother died 1999)
Harold McGrath (brother)
Francis Mcrath (brother, died age 10 of T.B.)
Catherine McGrath Cox (sister of McGrath died 2002)
Robert F. Cox (nephew of McGrath died 2006)
Ann Cox (niece in law of McGrath died 2015)
John J. Cox (great-nephew of McGrath)
David M. Cox (great-nephew of McGrath)
Mary McGrath Law Dufresne (sister of McGrath died 2006)
Kathryn Kay (Roy) Wright (niece of McGrath)
Barbara (Joe) Healey (niece of McGrath)
John Law (nephew of McGrath)
Linda Law (niece of McGrath)
Christine (Edward) Ostrander (niece of McGrath)
Margie (David Perilstein) Law (niece of McGrath)
Michael McAlonie (friend of McGrath adds):
"My father attended and graduated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) as a mechanical engineer, and was a USN Seabee veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima. RPI Professor Halloran was my father Howard McAlonie’s first cousin as my grandmother was a Halloran as well. The MIA/ KIA individual I am researching was his classmate at Catholic Central High School (CCHS) today RPI's West Hall and was not any direct relation to me. But I grew up listening to stories about him. I have some small amount of specific information on him and his loss July 21, 1945 a day after leaving Iwo Jima where he visited my father while returning from leave in Guam. He was a close friend of my fathers and his death stayed with my father his whole life. Another bit of information I though might be useful to you regarding the crash particulars that I noticed when just re-reading the letter sent home from the C. O. that I obtained from John McGrath’s niece-in-law after I located the McGrath's last remaining sister in Troy in 2002. That sister died two weeks later."
1930 United States Federal Census - John McGrath
CCHS Catholicon Yearbook 1941 (photo)
CCHS Catholicon Yearbook 1944 (photo)
NPRC Military Personnel Records - John F. McGrath
F4U-4 Corsair bureau number 81095 MIA July 21, 1945
Navy Serial Number Search Results - F4U-4 Corsair 81095
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List July 1945 - F4U Corsair McGrath
War Diary - USMC Marine Fighting Squadron 212 - July 1-31, 1945
"21 July  Sakishima Gunto Strike: Flight composition: Major McMahon and Lts. Duncan, Wortman, Stanton, Ellis, Gillespie, Mouzakis, McGrath, Sandbach, Petty, Lingenfelter, La Marre, Jernigan and Walsh.
Major McMahon led 24 Corsairs, 12 of which were furnished by VMF-223, in a rocket and strafing attack against various targets of opportunity on and in the vicinity of
Iriomote Jima, Sakishima Gunto. Principal target was Sonai Town, site of a small chemical plant and administrative center of Iriomote Jima, which received 59 rockets and was thoroughly strafed. Planes also strafed and rocketed Hatoma Jima and Kobama Jima. No specific results from any of the attacks were observed.
... 2dLt. John F. McGrath, USMCR, was killed in action when his plane failed to pull out of a rocket dive and crashed into the water several hundred yards SW of Sonai Town at 1435. The cause was unknown, but the probability that it might have been due to AA fire is indicated by the fact that 2 pilots from VMF-223 returned with flak fragments imbedded [sic] in their planes. No pilots from either squadron at any time observed AA fire. The aircraft destroyed was F4U-4, bureau # 81095."
The Troy Record
"1st Lt. John F. McGrath Troy Marine, Fighter Pilot, Died in Action" July 26, 1945, page 2
The Troy Record "Mother Receives Medals Awarded to Marine Flyer" January 16, 1950, page 11
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John F. McGrath
2Lt John F McGrath (courts of the missing photo)
John Francis McGrath (memorial marker photo)
Thanks to Kathryn Kay Wright, Christine Ostrander, John Law and Michael McAlonie for additional information.