MOH Was Just the Beginning for VADM Joel T. Boone’s Navy Career

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Lt. j.g. Joel T. Boone portrait photograph, Dec. 4, 1915. As a lieutenant, Boone was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism while helping the wounded during a battle in the vicinity of Vierzy, France, July 19, 1918. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Lt. j.g. Joel T. Boone portrait photograph, Dec. 4, 1915. As a lieutenant, Boone was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism while helping the wounded during a battle in the vicinity of Vierzy, France, July 19, 1918. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Joel T. Boone might have been the Forest Gump of his day because, if something big was happening, Boone was there. Unlike Gump, though Vice Adm. Boone, wasn’t in the background; he was at the forefront of historical events when he wasn’t creating them.

After graduate studies at the U.S. Navy Medical School, Washington, D.C., he transferred into the regular Navy in 1915 and served with the Artillery Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Force, participating in the Haiti Campaign during 1915-16.

Boone – Medal of Honor Recipient

In April 1917, Boone received orders to USS Wyoming and was promoted to lieutenant. Once the United States entered World War I, Boone was a surgeon with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Sixth Regiment in France.

And this is where Boone first made history. On July 19, 1918, while his regiment battled the enemy at Vierzy, he demonstrated “extraordinary heroism” while aiding wounded Marines.

Boone left the cover of a ravine “with absolute disregard for personal safety, ever conscious and mindful of the suffering fallen” and went into an open field where there was no protection, and while under “extreme enemy fire of all calibers, through a heavy mist of gas,” applied dressings and first aid to wounded Marines. After he ran out of dressings, Boone again made his way through a “heavy barrage of large-caliber shell, both high explosive and gas,” to replenish the supplies. He returned with a side-car load and administered them in saving the lives of the wounded. He made a second trip, under the same conditions and for the same purpose, later that day, according to the Medal of Honor citation.

Those actions earned him the Medal of Honor and by Sept. 1918, he had been promoted to lieutenant commander.

Boone – Doctor to the Presidents

After the war ended, Lt. Cmdr. Boone served as director of the Bureau of Naval Affairs at American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. In June 1922, he reported as the medical officer onboard the Presidential Yacht, USS Mayflower, serving President Warren G. Harding.

President Harding had his own personal physician, an older homeopathic doctor from Marion, Ohio, the President’s hometown.

While the older doctor jawed with reporters in the White House, a more serious Lt. Cmdr. Boone took meticulous notes on Harding’s increasing failing health. He also assisted in treating the First Lady Florence Harding’s kidney ailment. Boone was so concerned about Mrs. Harding’s kidney disease prior to the First Couple’s epic western tour that he quietly arranged to have a casket brought onboard, just in case.

Although there was a death on the tour, it wasn’t Mrs. Harding’s. The cross country trip began by a 10-car train called Superb on June 20, 1923. On the trip, Harding’s heath continued to deteriorate, with some talk of food poisoning. Harding, who suffered from high blood pressure and constant fatigue, wasn’t an easy patient and he refused to let up on his schedule.

Lt. Joel T. Boone, second from the right, in this World War I photo.

Lt. Joel T. Boone, second from the right, in this World War I photo.

In late July, the entourage arrived in San Francisco after the whirlwind tour of Alaska. Harding decided to rest from the trip at the Palace Hotel and it was there where he died Aug. 2, 1923. Boone was with him up until the final moments of Harding’s death, according to a book The Strange Deaths of President Harding by Robert H. Ferrell.

Boone, described as observant and methodical, left an incredible amount of information for historians to sift through: a diary, oral history, an unpublished autobiography and reams of correspondence.

After Harding’s death, Boone remained the medical officer to President Calvin Coolidge, and was there when Coolidge’s son died at Walter Reed Hospital in 1924. In 1939, while conducting the White House physical for President Herbert Hoover, Boone successfully treated Hoover’s son for tuberculosis. He even remained on staff briefly when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933.

Boone – Hero to Japanese POWs

In April 1945, Boone was promoted to commodore and ordered as Fleet Medical Officer to Commander, Third Fleet, as a rear admiral. He was tasked with providing care and evacuation of Japanese prisoners of war at the Omori POW camp in Tokyo. Three boarding parties on an LCVP left USS San Juan at 3 p.m. Aug. 31. Boone was in the first Higgins boat.

“While entering the channel a large number of waving and very excited prisoners of war, unclad or partially clad, were seen to be standing on the dock. As the first LCVP arrived, many prisoners jumped into the water and swam toward the boat. The excitement of the prisoners was a never-forgettable sight. They carried home-made improvised national flags of the United States and Great Britain,” according to the United States Pacific Fleet’s report on the Initial Release of Prisoners of War in Japan.”

Boone was the first American ashore in his eagerness to “lend every effort in the relief of the starved and suffering Allied prisoners of war.”

He was also the only one unarmed. After liberating the Omori POW camp, Boone had a car driven to the Shinagawa Prison Hospital. The American physician entered the hospital by pushing aside armed guards with fixed bayonets. Once the prisoners realized Boone was an American officer, “their excitement knew no bounds. Those who were able to ran out of doors and jumped through windows, running toward him, hugging him, yelling and literally kissing him and falling at his feet in their excitement.”

Boone again witnessed history when he was onboard USS Missouri Sept. 2, 1945 during Japan’s surrender to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Rear Adm. Boone is standing just behind Gen. MacArthur in pictures.

Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz signs the Instrument of Surrender as United States Representative, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), Sept. 2, 1945.

Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz signs the Instrument of Surrender as United States Representative, on board USS Missouri (BB-63), Sept. 2, 1945.

Joel T. Boone portrait photograph, taken circa the early 1950s. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral Robert B. Carney, USN, (Retired). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Joel T. Boone portrait photograph, taken circa the early 1950s. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral Robert B. Carney, USN, (Retired). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

 

After his second war, Rear Adm. Boone served as the District Medical Officer, Eleventh Naval District at San Diego, Calif. In early 1948, Boone was appointed as executive Secretary on the Secretary of Defense’s Committee on Medical and Hospital Services of the Armed Forces and later served on the Hoover Commission. In March 1950, he became the Inspector General of the Medical Department and went to Korea that same year, earning the distinction of having served in three major wars. By December 1950, however, due to his health, he retired from the Navy and was promoted to the rank of vice admiral.

As if all the above weren’t enough, his other achievements include the development of helicopter decks aboard hospital ships during the Korean War, and he conducted the first medical and safety survey of U.S. coal mines. He was the most highly decorated medical officer in Navy history and only the second to receive the Medal of Honor, according to historical accounts.

Vice Adm. Boone was too ill to attend the opening of the Adm. Joel T. Boone Health Clinic at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek on March 15, 1972.

“What a better way to dedicate a structure to the medical needs of our great Navy than to name this building after one of America’s – and the Navy’s – great patriots,” said Vice Adm. George Davis, who was the Navy’s surgeon general and guest speaker. “May those people who occupy this building to administer health care needs to our Navy eligible have the dedication, empathy and the devotion to service that its name implies.”

Vice Adm. Boone died two years later, April 2, 1974 in Washington, D.C. and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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