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John Duncan Bulkeley (19 August 1911 – 6 April 1996) was a vice admiral in United States Navy and was one of its most decorated naval officers. Bulkeley received the Medal of Honor for actions in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was also the PT boat skipper who evacuated General Douglas MacArthur from Corregidor in the Philippines and commanded at the Battle of La Ciotat. The United States Navy named an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer after him: USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), commissioned in 2001.

John D. Bulkeley
VADM John Bulkeley 1988 NR edit.jpg
Vice Admiral John D. Bulkeley
Nickname(s)"Sea Wolf"[1]
Born(1911-08-19)19 August 1911
New York City, New York
Died6 April 1996(1996-04-06) (aged 84)
Silver Spring, Maryland
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1933–1988
RankVice admiral
Service number0-72460
Commands heldMotor Torpedo Boat Subchaser Squadron One
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Seven
Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two(2)
Commander, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons-Europe
USS Endicott
USS Stribling
Commander, Destroyer Division One Hundred Thirty Two
USS Tolovana
Commander, Destroyer Squadron Twelve
Clarksville Nuclear Modification Center at Clarksville, Tennessee
Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla Eight
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Battles/warsWorld War II Korean War
AwardsMedal of Honor
Navy Cross
Distinguished Service Cross (2)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Purple Heart (2)
Croix de Guerre (France)
Distinguished Conduct Star (Philippines)

Early life and careerEdit

Bulkeley as a lieutenant in the navy

Bulkeley was born in New York City and grew up on a farm in Hackettstown, New Jersey, where he graduated from Hackettstown High School.[2] He was a 1933 graduate of the United States Naval Academy.[3]

World War IIEdit

Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley being awarded the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt

At the dawn of World War II, Bulkeley was a lieutenant in command of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three, a Philippine-based detachment of six motor torpedo boats. He hit his stride as a daring, resourceful and courageous leader. He picked up General Douglas MacArthur, his family, and his immediate staff, who had been ordered to flee the Philippines, and took them aboard PT 41 and other 77-foot (23 m) motor torpedo boats through over 600 nautical miles (1,000 km) of open ocean. On arriving at Mindanao, MacArthur said, "You have taken me out of the jaws of death. I shall never forget it." Bulkeley earned many of his array of decorations while in command of that squadron and a subsequent one. He was evacuated to Australia by B-17 in the final days of the campaign.

In September 1942, while in the States helping to raise War Bonds as a lieutenant commander, he met former Ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy at New York's Plaza Hotel, and shortly after was instrumental in recruiting Lieutenant John F. Kennedy into the Navy's Motor Torpedo Boat Training Center (MTBTC) at Mellville, Rhode Island.[4] Kennedy's heroic captaining of the PT 109 would help to launch his first campaign for Congress.

In 1944, he took part in the Normandy invasion. Bulkeley led torpedo boats and minesweepers in clearing the lanes to Utah Beach,[3] keeping German E-boats from attacking the landing ships along the Mason Line, and picking up wounded sailors from the sinking minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695), and destroyer USS Corry (DD-463). As invasion operations wound down, he received command of his first large ship, the destroyer USS Endicott (DD-495). One month after D-Day, he came to the aid of two British gunboats under attack by two German corvettes. Bulkeley's vessel largest gun was smaller than the guns on the German ship. After days of fighting, Bulkeley only had one working gun on his ship. Charging in with only one gun working, he engaged both enemy vessels at point-blank range, sinking both. Afterwards, Bulkeley rescued the British sailors in the water and then rescued many of the German sailors as well. When asked, he explained, "What else could I do? You engage, you fight, you win. That is the reputation of our Navy, then and in the future."

Cold WarEdit

During the Korean War in 1952, Bulkeley commanded Destroyer Division 132. After the war, he was Chief of Staff for Cruiser Division Five.[5]

In the early 1960s, Bulkeley commanded Clarksville Base, Tennessee, then a tri-service command under the aegis of the Defense Atomic Support Agency. Having lost none of his wartime daring, Bulkeley was known to test the alertness of the Marines guarding the base by donning a ninja suit, blackening his face and endeavoring to penetrate the classified area after dark without detection. This was a dangerous endeavor, as the Marines carried loaded weapons. Ever popular with his men, who both respected and admired him, Bulkeley could be seen driving around the base in his fire-engine red Triumph TR3 sports car with a large silver PT boat as a hood ornament.

Promoted to Rear Admiral by President John F. Kennedy, who commanded PT-109 during World War II, Bulkeley was dispatched to command the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba,[3] where he met Cuba's threat to sever water supplies in response to the Bay of Pigs invasion and other assaults by ordering the installation of desalinization equipment to make the base self-sufficient.

Last yearsEdit

Bulkeley retired from active duty in 1975. However, he was recalled to active duty in a retired-retained status in order to serve as the commander of the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) which conducts inspections and surveys of U.S. naval vessels before their commissioning and deployment.[6] Bulkeley retired from the Navy in 1988, after 55 years of service.[3][7]

On 6 April 1996, Bulkeley died at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland, at age 84.[3] Admiral Bulkeley was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.[1]

Awards and decorationsEdit

Bulkeley's awards and decorations include:[1]

Surface Warfare Officer Insignia
Medal of Honor
Navy Cross Distinguished Service Cross
w/ one bronze oak leaf cluster
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
w/ two 516" Gold Stars
Silver Star
w/ one ​516" Gold Star
Legion of Merit
w/ Combat "V" and one ​516" Gold Star
Purple Heart
w/ one ​516" Gold Star
Joint Service Commendation Medal Combat Action Ribbon
w/ two ​516" Gold Stars
Navy Presidential Unit Citation
Army Presidential Unit Citation
w/ one bronze oak leaf cluster
China Service Medal American Defense Service Medal
w/ Fleet Clasp (​316" Bronze Star)
American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
w/ three ​316" Bronze Stars
European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
w/ two ​316" Bronze Stars
World War II Victory Medal National Defense Service Medal
w/ one ​316" Bronze Star
Korean Service Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon Distinguished Conduct Star
with Silver Star
Croix de Guerre with Palm
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Philippine Defense Medal United Nations Korea Medal
Republic of Korea War Service Medal Navy Expert Rifleman Medal Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal

Medal of Honor citationEdit

WWII poster with quote from John D. Bulkeley

Bulkeley's Medal of Honor citation reads:

For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty as commander of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3, in Philippine waters during the period 7 December 1941 to 10 April 1942. The remarkable achievement of LCDR Bulkeley's command in damaging or destroying a notable number of Japanese enemy planes, surface combatant and merchant ships, and in dispersing landing parties and land-based enemy forces during the 4 months and 8 days of operation without benefit of repairs, overhaul, or maintenance facilities for his squadron, is believed to be without precedent in this type of warfare. His dynamic forcefulness and daring in offensive action, his brilliantly planned and skillfully executed attacks, supplemented by a unique resourcefulness and ingenuity, characterize him as an outstanding leader of men and a gallant and intrepid seaman. These qualities coupled with a complete disregard for his own personal safety reflect great credit upon him and the Naval Service.[8]


Route 57 in Mansfield Township, Warren County, New Jersey, is named the "Admiral John D. Bulkeley Memorial Highway" in his honor.[9] In addition, the USN destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG-84), commissioned in 2001, is named after him.

The headquarters building of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is named Bulkeley Hall. A quartering area for sailors at the naval station is named Camp Bulkeley.

Bulkeley in the moviesEdit

Robert Montgomery played motor torpedo boat squadron commander LT Brickley, based on Bulkeley, in the 1945 movie They Were Expendable.[1] John Ford, assisted by Montgomery, directed. The cast also includes John Wayne, Ward Bond, and Donna Reed.

Bulkeley was also depicted in the 1977 movie MacArthur by William Wellman Jr. during the evacuation of General MacArthur and his family from Corregidor.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Arlington National Cemetery profile.
  2. ^ Bowman, Tom. "'Bold buckaroo' motivates Mid Medal of Honor winner, rescuer of MacArthur meets young 'shipmate'", The Baltimore Sun, 13 November 1993. Accessed 4 October 2011. "She asked her teachers and her principal about this man, John D. Bulkeley. And she read "Sea Wolf," detailing the World War II exploits that helped make him one of the most decorated fighting men in U.S. history. After a 59-year career in the Navy, the retired admiral performed one final – though unwitting – duty: Serving as the inspiration for his fellow Hackettstown High graduate to enter the Naval Academy."
  3. ^ a b c d e Swarns, Rachel L. (8 April 1996). "Vice Adm. John D. Bulkeley, 84, Hero of D-Day and Philippines". New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
  4. ^ Doyle, William, "PT 109", (2015) Harper-Collins Publishers, New York City, pp. 29–33.
  5. ^ "Vice Admiral John D. Bulkeley, 1941–1996". Surface Navy Association Hall of Fame. 27 February 2004. Retrieved 19 October 2007.
  6. ^ Among the ships Bulkeley inspected was USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) in 1986; his sea trials report calls the guided missile frigate "one of the cleanest [of its class] that the Board has seen." No Higher Honor: FFG 58 Leaves Bath Iron Works For Sea Trials.
  7. ^ "Medal of Honor recipients, WWII, A–F". U.S. Army. Archived from the original on 16 June 2008. Retrieved 11 September 2004.
  8. ^ "Route 57 straight line diagram" (PDF). New Jersey Department of Transportation. Retrieved 13 July 2009.


External linksEdit