Operational commander Navy Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher used his leadership experience in two key World War II engagements in the Pacific theater: the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea. But long before that, his actions during the 1914 occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, earned him the Medal of Honor.
Born in Marshalltown, Iowa, in April 1885, Fletcher went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and graduated in 1906. He served on battleships, and in March 1912, he joined the USS Chauncey as the commanding officer. He transferred to the USS Florida in December 1912, and was aboard it during the occupation of Veracruz in April 1914.
The U.S. occupied the Mexican seaport town for several months after an incident involving U.S. sailors and Mexican land forces led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations during Mexico’s ongoing revolution.
While in charge of the transport ship Esperanza, Fletcher helped more than 350 refugees get onboard, many of them after the conflict was going on.
“This ship was under fire, being struck more than 30 times, but he succeeded in getting all refugees placed in safety,” the Medal of Honor citation said. “Later, he was placed in charge of the train conveying refugees under a flag of truce.”
This was hazardous duty because the track was potentially mined and “dealing with the Mexican guard of soldiers might have caused a conflict,” the citation read, adding that it was greatly due to his efforts in establishing friendly relations with the Mexican soldiers that so many refugees succeeded in reaching Veracruz from the interior.
Fletcher went on to serve on the staff of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet’s commander in chief, and then he returned to the Naval Academy for duty in the executive department.
On Dec. 12, 1915, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
During World War I, he served as a gunnery officer on the USS Kearsarge until September 1917. In May 1918, he commanded the USS Benham, and he was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on that tour of duty. The Benham had been patrolling waters infested with enemy submarines and mines, and Fletcher served other hazardous missions while on the Benham.
He continued to command battleships, gunboats, destroyers and submarines. He became an aide to the secretary of the Navy in 1933.
Fletcher commanded the Pacific Fleet’s cruisers, and he commanded Cruiser Division 4 during the World War II Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. It was in the latter battle that the Japanese suffered their first decisive defeat in 350 years, restoring the balance of naval power in the Pacific.
During the Guadalcanal-Tulagi landings on Aug. 7 and 8, 1942, he commanded two of the three task forces engaged, and the American task forces in the ensuing Battle of the Eastern Solomons, earning him the Distinguished Service Medal.
He finished his career as the chairman of the general board for the Navy Department. In World War II, he also earned a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in 1943.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
- April 24, 2019 at 12:05 am by USA Editor (displayed above)
- April 24, 2019 at 12:05 am by USA Editor