Blackburn, John Thomas, CAPT

 Service Photo   Service Details
27 kb
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Last Rank
Last Primary NEC
131X-Unrestricted Line Officer - Pilot
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1958-1959, 131X, USS Midway (CVA-41)
Service Years
1933 - 1962
Official/Unofficial US Navy Certificates
Cold War
Order of the Golden Dragon
Neptune Subpoena
Panama Canal
Plank Owner
Safari To Suez

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

34 kb

Home State
District Of Columbia
Year of Birth
Not Specified
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Bersley H. Thomas, Jr. (Tom), SMCS to remember Blackburn, John Thomas, CAPT.

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Contact Info
Home Town
District of Columbia
Last Address
Jacksonville, Florida

Date of Passing
Jun 01, 1994
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

Office of the Secretary of Defense US Navy Retired 20

 Unofficial Badges 

Order of the Shellback Order of the Golden Dragon

 Military Association Memberships
United States Naval Academy Alumni AssociationTailhook AssociationMilitary Order of Foreign Wars of the United StatesUSS Bunker Hill CV-17 Association
USS Hornet AssociationMilitary Order of the World Wars (MOWW)USS Midway Veterans Association
  1933, United States Naval Academy Alumni Association - Assoc. Page
  1936, Tailhook Association
  1941, Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United States [Verified] - Assoc. Page
  1943, USS Bunker Hill CV-17 Association
  1944, USS Hornet Association [Verified]
  1945, Military Order of the World Wars (MOWW)
  1958, USS Midway Veterans Association [Verified]

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

John Thomas Blackburn,  81, decorated World War II fighter pilot and air squadron Commander, died of cancer March 21, 1994 in Jacksonville, Florida. The son and younger brother of Naval officers, he was born and grew up in the District.

He attended the old Western High School and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1933. In 1943, took command of fighter squadron VF-17, the first to fly an F-4U Corsair fighter plane in combat. Known as the Jolly Rogers, squadron was among the most famous of the war. Under his command, the squadron downed 155 Japanese airplanes in 76 days and produced 13 aces in the process. He himself shot down 13 enemy planes. He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his war service.

He served at Pentagon after the war and commanded the aircraft carrier Midway in 1958 and 1959. He retired from the Navy in 1962.

In 1989, he published "The Jolly Rogers," an account of his squadron's exploits during its campaign in the Solomon Islands.

His marriage to Rosalie Reed of the District ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Jane Brashears of Jacksonville; a daughter, a son, and 5 grandchildren. Services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Other Comments:
To view award citations, click on the ribbons in the Ribbon Bar.
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World War II/Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Treasury-Bougainville Operation
Start Year
End Year

The Bougainville campaign (Operation Cherry Blossom) was fought by the Allies in the South Pacific during World War II to regain control of the island of Bougainville from the Japanese forces who had occupied it in 1942. During their occupation the Japanese constructed naval aircraft bases in the north, east, and south of the island; but none in the west. They developed a naval anchorage at Tonolei Harbor near Buin, their largest base, on the southern coastal plain of Bougainville. On the nearby Treasury and Shortland Islands they built airfields, naval bases and anchorages. These bases helped protect Rabaul, the major Japanese garrison and naval base in Papua New Guinea, while allowing continued expansion to the south-east, down the Solomon Islands chain, to Guadalcanal.

The Allied campaign, which had two distinct phases, began on 1 November 1943 and ended on 21 August 1945, with the surrender of the Japanese.

Before the war, Bougainville had been administered as part of the Australian Territory of New Guinea, even though, geographically, Bougainville is part of the Solomon Islands chain. The United Kingdom and Germany had traded it for another islands territory which became British rather than German. As a result, the campaign is referred to as part of both the New Guinea and the Solomon Islands campaigns.
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Year
To Year
Last Updated:
Mar 21, 2008
Personal Memories

November 1 brought real action, as the Marines landed at Cape Torokina, near Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville's western side. VF-17 provided high cover for the landings, with staggered eight-plane flights on station until mid-afternoon. Blackburn led off the first flight of the morning, taking up station north of the landing area, an oval pattern about 10 x 3 miles at 25,000 feet. The command ship, code-named "Cocker Base" announced bogies and Blackburn signalled his flight to attack. The targets comprised 18 Vals at 14,000 feet and 12 covering Zeros above them. Both four-plane divisions went into a long shallow dive, building up their speed to 350 knots.
Leading the first division, tense with the excitment of first combat, Blackburn opened up at 500 yards, hitting, but not destroying, his target. The F4Us recovered and zoomed up to 20,000 feet. Suddenly Blackburn found himself on a Zero's tail; he fired, it blew up, and his Corsair flew right through the resulting fireball. Meanwhile his wingman, Doug Gutenkunst, briefly chased a Val northwards, returned to rejoin the main fight, ducked into a cloud to escape a Zero, and then headed back to Ondongo when he couldn't locate the others. Ens. Jim Streig and Tom Killefer flamed two more Zeros.
Thad Bell's second division followed Blackburn's and made one abortive firing pass. Bell and Earl May then headed back; Ray Beacham and Don Malone got separated, but Beacham pounced on a Zero. The pilot mistakenly tried to dive away, but the heavier Corsair caught up, and Beacham's burst from 200 yards blew him up. This was later determined to be the Jolly Rogers' first combat victory. Then a pair of Zeros bounced Beacham from out of the sun and shot up his right wing beyond repair. Beacham dived away and struggled home by himself.
Beacham's wingman, Malone, joined up with Blackburn for the trip home. They spotted a P-40 far ahead with a Zero about a mile behind him. The Corsairs couldn't hope to catch up but, in desperation, Blackburn fired at extreme long range. Incredibly, the Zero turned back toward them, and then, even more incredibly, motored straight in without any evasive action. With a short burst at 200 yards, Blackburn sent him down in flames.

The results of the day's first mission: 5 Zero kills and 4 damaged, no losses to VF-17.

Halford's second flight and Kleinman's third flight didn't find any aerial opposition and contented themselves with strafing the Ballale airstrip on the trip home. On Roger Hedrick's fourth flight, he scored on one kill, as described in the Hedrick article. Later that afternoon, Fighting-17 lost its first man in combat when Lt.(jg) Johnny Keith was hit by AA over Ballale. Others saw him ditch and swim clear of the sinking fighter, but by the time the Dumbo mission got to the area, darkness had fallen, and a morning search turned up no trace of him. (This story closely resembles Indian Joe Bauer's last flight. One wonders how many times this tragedy was re-played on the limitless Pacific stage.)

Nov. 8 - Hedrick is Convinced
At this time, the Japanese remained in control of several bases on Bougainville: Buka, Bonis, Chabai, & Matchin Bay in the north, Tenekau & Kieta on the east coast, and Kara, Kahili, & Ballale in the south. While the Allies planned to let these forces 'wither on the vine', in early November, 1943, they still posed a real threat, with their ability to launch or recover air strikes. One of AirSols' primary responsibilities was to neutralize these facilities.
AirSols' plan for the 8th called for nine B-25s to bomb and strafe Matchin Bay, escorted by twelve F4Us of VF-17. Breakfast was at the "Hotel Ondongo Mud Plaza," Army chow, which the Navy fliers found grossly inferior to the decent food on carriers. Blackburn led the dawn take-off, circled for ten minutes, and became furious when only five Hogs showed. Missing seven planes, they went to meet the bombers, none of whom showed. The five Corsairs headed north to do what damage they could, catching a light transport plane on final approach. Another one for Big Hog! Kleinman led the day's second flight, a four hour jaunt in which the pilots suffered from that ever-present enemy: AAA, Acute Aereo Asserosis.

Sharp-eyed Roger Hedrick led the third flight of the day and found plenty of opposition. While his flight could only count two confirmed kills, the Corsairs' outstanding performance in real combat put an end to his reservations about the plane. Details in the Hedrick article. The day concluded with two more missions and with Blackburn "sharing his feelings" with all hands about the seven aborts that morning.

The squadron was rapidly maturing and changing. While he retained the original five flight leaders (himself, Hedrick, Chuck Pillsbury, Halford, and Kleinman), Blackburn began to promote new division leaders. Each pilot theoretically had his own assigned aircraft, whose quirks he was most familiar with, but the realities of battle damage, mechanical repair, and scheduling meant that a pilot took up whatever plane was available. With 5 flights, the squadron usually ran 3 or 4 missions per day, permitting 1 or 2 flights to rest periodically. Blackburn also began to weed out the weak sisters, men with 'buck fever' - the inability to fire six 50 caliber machine guns at another human being, or men whose planes seemed prone to 'Kahili Knock' - frequent reported engine problems on tough missions.

My Photos From This Battle or Operation
No Available Photos

  66 Also There at This Battle:
  • Fulleman, Bob
  • Garrett, Earl, PO2, (1941-1953)
  • Karakehian, Hagop, S1c, (1942-1946)
  • Mardigian, Dicran
  • Street, William, CPO, (1940-1946)
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