WWII Vet Jack Crawford - Consciousness Of Duty, Faithfully Performed
Story Courtesy of U.S. Navy
May 17, 2014
WASHINGTON – The night before the Battle of Midway in June 1942,
a small group of torpedo plane pilots gathered in then-Ensign Jack
Crawford's room aboard the USS Yorktown, and along with Crawford's
pilot roommate, toasted one another with drinks of torpedo alcohol
"Only after the battle did it strike me,"
Crawford said, remembering that night nearly 72 years ago. "No
torpedo plane that flew from the Yorktown ever came back. They had
to have died knowing they were going to, because they weren't well
Even at 95, age has done little to slow
down Crawford, who went on to a long career as a pioneer in the
Navy's burgeoning nuclear program before retiring as a captain. A
self-professed "amateur student of history," Crawford remains a
tireless advocate for recognizing the historic significance of the
Battle of Midway.
April 24, 2014 - Retired Navy Capt.
Jack Crawford, a self-professed "amateur student of history," serves
as an advocate for recognizing the historic impact of the Battle of
Midway in 1942. Witnessing the battle firsthand aboard the deck of
the USS Yorktown, Crawford said that had the U.S. not stopped the
Japanese Navy, the later 20th century may have been radically
different. (U.S. Navy photo by Shawn Miller)
Headed For Trouble
Graduating from an accelerated class at the U.S. Naval
Academy in December 1941, Crawford originally received
orders to the USS Oklahoma stationed at Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii. Only days before his graduation, the Oklahoma was
sunk during the Japanese attack. Instead, he attended radar
school before receiving orders to the aircraft carrier
Crawford said he arrived at Pearl Harbor in
May 1942 only to discover that the Yorktown was in the
Battle of the Coral Sea, so he was assigned as an assistant
to a lieutenant on base. When the heavily-damaged Yorktown
returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Crawford was unhappy
with his situation and eager to get to sea. Acting on a tip
that the Yorktown would soon be repaired and underway the
following day, Crawford followed a frustrated captain until
he got his detachment orders signed.
"He said, 'Son,
if I were you, I'd recognize you're heading for trouble if
you keep doing business this way in the Navy,'" Crawford
said. "I just listened to the lecture and grabbed my pen and
took off and I got aboard at 10 o'clock that night, and the
next morning we're back out of the drydock."
the ship, Crawford was assigned to be junior officer of the
deck. Standing watch at 4 a.m. on the morning of June 4,
1942, he was one of the first to hear the incoming message,
"Many planes headed Midway." He didn't know that shortly
before, U.S. forces had broken the Japanese code and
discovered the plans to attack Midway. He entered a meeting
with the officers as the crew planned the course of action
for the impending fight.
"It was really heartening to
know that we know, and were in a position to hit them before
they hit us," he said.
A few short hours later,
Crawford stood on the hangar deck watching waves of torpedo
planes and dive bombers attack the ship. Three bombs rocked
the ship, causing heavy damage, but Crawford said excellent
damage control from the crew kept her afloat. That luck
would soon run out.
"I remember the tremor that went
through the ship when one torpedo hit back on the port
side," Crawford recalled. "It was a tremor that went through
the whole ship almost like you were bending a ruler, and
then bam, another one! The ship took a quick list to port
about five degrees and then gradually crept up."
than one week after boarding for his first sea tour after
the academy, Crawford was sliding down a rope off the side
of the Yorktown into the Pacific.
He said his first
reaction was anger. "I didn't know whether or not there were
sharks in the water there," he said. "Turns out there
wasn't, but I didn't know it, and nobody else did, either.
And meanwhile, we're all lined up with oil and you don't
know whether a submarine's going to light that off and we're
all going to be toast in a few minutes, so it was a pretty
The USS Russell picked up
Crawford and other survivors while a repair party attempted
to keep the severely-listing Yorktown from sinking. A
Japanese submarine later interrupted those plans, sinking
both the Yorktown and the USS Hammann, which was providing
Crawford returned to Pearl Harbor
with an idea that the battle had been a great success, but
not fully realizing the impact until later. Sailing back in
to Pearl Harbor, he decided to pay a visit to the captain
that had signed his detachment orders only days earlier.
"He said, 'You again!'" Crawford laughed. "I said,
'Captain, you were absolutely right, I was headed for
trouble, but I think it came a little faster than you or I
Crawford shipped east, where he
soon found himself on another carrier, the USS Santee, this
time headed for the invasion of North Africa. It was there
Crawford said he realized that had the U.S. lost at Midway,
he and everyone else aboard would have been headed west to
the Pacific for a more intense battle with Japan rather than
being able to send personnel east to the European and
A converted commercial oiler, the
Santee wasn't exactly Crawford's ideal duty station, but he
said it helped him edge closer to his ultimate goal of
getting a naval appointment to the engineering school at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
the importance of being at sea, and I wanted to be at sea,"
Crawford said. "My long range objective in the Navy was to
go to MIT and become a Navy constructor, as they were called
at the time. It never occurred to me that I wanted to do
anything else. I wanted to be a naval officer to design and
After campaigns in the Mediterranean
Sea, Crawford's determination and sea time paid off. He left
for MIT and went on to shipbuilding. He was later
interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover and spent most of the
remainder of his career in the Navy's nuclear propulsion
program, where he helped build the world's first
nuclear-powered submarine and aircraft carrier.
Crawford pointed out a framed photograph of that carrier,
the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), hanging just inside the doorway
of Crawford's small home on a tree-lined street near
Bethesda, Maryland, recalling his years of service.
It was tough work, Crawford said of his job under Rickover.
"One of the rewards of being in this organization is people
are carefully selected and they realize how fortunate they
were to be on the cutting edge of technology," he added.
After spending five combined years at MIT and earning
two master's degrees, all while serving in the Navy,
Crawford offered advice for the younger generations
following. "You can't guarantee you're going to be
successful, but if you want to do it, be prepared to accept
opportunity when it comes your way," he said, echoing advice
the president of MIT offered him years ago.
than 50 years of his life in service to the U.S. government,
both in the Navy and as a civilian, Crawford said he would
do it all over again—not that he's finished yet. He still
performs work as a consultant to different agencies.
"If you learn how to design and build ships or build houses
or build cities, keep doing it forever," he said. "At age
95, I'm still doing it."
"What I like to look back on
is I did my duty," Crawford said proudly. "There aren't many
things you can take out of this planet. You can't take money
out of this planet, but you can take with you, wherever you
go, consciousness of duty faithfully performed."
'Go Forth and Proselytize'
One of Crawford's main missions now is spreading
knowledge about the Battle of Midway—a battle he argues is
still much under-appreciated for its historic impact.
Overshadowed by the calendar week proximity to D-Day,
Crawford said not enough people know how important Midway
was in stopping the steady march of Japanese forces across
the Pacific and changing the face of World War II. Events
growing in popularity, such as the anniversary celebration
each June at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.,
help educate new generations, he added.
wanted more. "I wanted to see a good book on Midway, and
there wasn't one," Crawford said. So he called a friend,
historian and retired Naval Academy Professor Craig Symonds,
whom he helped inspire to write a definitive book on the
"Midway, at a minimum, was the most decisive
naval battle since Trafalgar, and perhaps the most
strategically decisive victory since Salamis," Crawford
said, offering a brief historical lesson on British Admiral
Horatio Lord Nelson's victory over the French and Spanish
fleets at Trafalgar, and the Greeks over Persian Emperor
Xerxes at Salamis.
Borrowing a line from remarks by
former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger at a Midway
61st anniversary commemoration, Crawford said he tries to
"go forth and proselytize" the role of Midway in American
"The impression that battle had on me was
those torpedo plane pilots," Crawford said of his roommate
and fellow aviators. "That will never go away. That battle
was won for a number of reasons, but one of them was