John James Powers was born on July 3, 1912 in New York, New York. Appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) class of 1935. Graduating as a U. S. Navy ensign with service number O-074968, he was assigned to USS West Virginia BB-48 then two years later assigned to USS Augusta CA-31. During June 1938, promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and assigned to the USS Utah then sent to flight training at NAS Pensacola and graduated as a Naval Aviator during January 1941.
On January 21, 1941 assigned to USS Yorktown (CV-5) to Bombing Squadron 5 (VB-5) as an SBD Dauntless dive bomber pilot and Squadron Gunnery Officer. Nicknamed "Jo Jo".
During the Battle of the Coral Sea, flew combat missions against Japanese warships and vessels. On May 4, 1942 took off form USS Yorktown (CV-5) a bombing mission against Japanese shipping in Tulagi Harbor and claimed two hits.
On May 7, 1942 took off from USS Yorktown (CV-5) on a dive bombing mission against Shōhō
the attack caused the carrier to sink. That evening Lt. Powers in his capacity as Squadron Gunnery Officer 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.
On May 8, 1942 prior to this mission, Powers told crews in the ready room: "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." Took off from USS
Yorktown CV-5 piloting SBD Dauntless 4597 armed with a single 1,000 pound bomb leading the third division on a dive bombing attack against Shōkaku.
Over the target at roughly 10:30am at an altitude of 18,000', the SBDs spotted the carrier escorted by cruisers and destroyers. The formation used cloud cover and reached an attack position by 10:49am southeast of the enemy force and waited for TBD Devastators from Torpedo Squadron 5 (VT-5) for mutual support and to make a coordinated attack.
Under attack, Shōkaku was making wild evasive maneuvers at roughly 34 knots to avoid the American aircraft. Her anti-aircraft batteries and Combat Air Patrol (CAP) of six Zeros airborne plus six more launched during the attack attempted to intercept the Americans.
At approximately 11:00am Powers made a low dive bombing attack before releasing his bomb that was credited with hitting the starboard side aft of the island and caused fires on both sides of the flight deck. This aircraft was last seen attempting to recover from his dive at roughly 200' and was obscured by anti-aircraft fire, smoke, flames and debris that caused it to crash nearby into the sea. When he failed to return, he was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). Powers earned the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart, posthumously.
|Medal of Honor Citation (May 7, 1942)
"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."
Powers was officially declared dead a year later on May 9, 1943. He is memorialized at the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
During February 1944, USS John J. Powers (DE-528) was named in his honor, christened by his mother. At the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA)
there is a memorial plaque in the memorial hall. Powers also has a memorial at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York.
During September 1943, U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated in a radio address, "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."
On May 4, 2017, U. S. President U. S. President Donald J. Trump mentioned Powers during his remarks during the Coral Sea Gala - 75th anniversary Battle of the Coral Sea Commemorative Dinner at the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum aboard USS Intrepid CV-11.
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List May 1942 SBD-3 Dauntless 4597 pilot Lt. John J. Powers
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John J. Powers
FindAGrave - Lt John James Powers (photo, tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - John James Powers (photo, memorial marker photo)
NARA Office of Naval Intelligence "The Battle of the Coral Sea" page 22 mentions Powers
Naval History and Heritage Command "Battle of the Coral Sea"
The First Team mentions Powers and this loss