Today’s Midshipman Must Be Tomorrow’s Jack Crawford

By Vice Adm. Sean Buck
Superintendent, United States Naval Academy

Midshipman John “Jack” W. Crawford, 1942.

The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) is hosting a true American hero Friday and helping him celebrate his 100th birthday. In December 1941, Midshipman First Class (a college senior) John “Jack” W. Crawford may have had doubts he’d see his next birthday. In fact, he was abandoning ship within a week of his first at-sea assignment. 

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Crawford and his Naval Academy classmates’ graduation and commissioning ceremonies were accelerated to meet the call to war. His original orders were to report to USS Oklahoma (BB 37). Those were cancelled because she had been sunk in the surprise attack.

He ultimately reported to Pearl Harbor in May of 1942, and was determined to join USS Yorktown (CV 5), who was limping home from the fight at the Battle of Coral Sea.

In a story not atypical of the times, Ensign Crawford demonstrated a fearless determination to get into the fight. Immediately. You can listen to him share his first real sea story of how he got on the ship despite the briefest of dry dock avails.

He and the Yorktown left for the Battle of Midway hours later. He would make it back to Pearl. The valiant ship went down after helping to sink four enemy carriers. She and her crew also helped turn the tide of war in the Pacific.

Looking forward on the flight deck of USS Yorktown (CV-5) shortly after she was hit by two Japanese aerial torpedoes, 4 June 1942. Men are preparing to abandon ship. Island’s port side is at right, with the curved supporting structure for the Primary Flight Control booth at top. Knotted lines in the foreground were apparently used to evacuate the island’s upper platforms. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives.

The ships and men who fought in it left indelible marks on American naval heritage. Their audacity and daring is today still almost unbelievable and the subject of yet another major Hollywood production this fall.

Crawford would go on to play a key role in the development of the Navy’s nuclear power program and the delivery of USS Enterprise (CVN 65). You can read more about his decades of service to our Navy and our country here.

We are celebrating more than a birthday for one of our own tomorrow here in Annapolis. We are celebrating those values we hold most dear: Honor, courage and commitment. We are recognizing the attributes which make U.S. Navy Sailors most effective when tested: Toughness, initiative, integrity and accountability.

In March 2013, Captain Crawford, a member of the USNA Class of 1942 and a 2001 Distinguished Graduate Award recipient, shared his story on being selected to go to sea aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5). Twelve days after Pearl Harbor, Jack left the Academy and went to war, beginning his 22-year active duty career. As a line officer aboard the USS Yorktown, he took part in the Battle of Midway and saw other action throughout the Pacific theater. Video courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation.

America is in a great power competition. For the first time in a generation, our Navy and our nation face competitors whose maritime capabilities can challenge our own.

Our Navy is training and operating with urgency. Our Brigade understands the gravity of the challenge before them.

It may be Captain Crawford’s birthday, but he’s the one offering us the gift of his example. Happy birthday, Sir.  We remain in your debt and are determined to meet the standard you and your shipmates set for us.