b. 29/04/1885 Marshalltown, Iowa. d. 25/04/1973 Betheseda, Maryland.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 21-22/04/1914 Veracruz, Mexico.
Fletcher was born in Marshalltown, Iowa on April 29, 1885. Appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from his native state in 1902, he graduated from Annapolis on February 12, 1906 and commissioned an Ensign on February 13, 1908 following two years at sea.
The early years of his career were spent on the battleships USS Rhode Island (BB-17), USS Ohio (BB-12), and USS Maine (BB-10). He also spent time on USS Eagle (1898) and USS Franklin (1864). In November 1909 he was assigned to the destroyer USS Chauncey (DD-3), operating as part of the Asiatic Torpedo Flotilla. Fletcher assumed command of USS Dale (DD-4) in April 1910 and in March 1912 he returned to Chauncey as her Commanding Officer. Transferred to USS Florida in December 1912, he was aboard that battleship during the United States occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, in April 1914. Fletcher's distinguished conduct in the battle at Veracruz led to his award of the Medal of Honor.
Fletcher became Aide and Flag Lieutenant on the staff of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in July 1914. After a year at this post, he returned to the Naval Academy for duty in the Executive Department. Upon the outbreak of World War I he served as Gunnery Officer of USS Kearsarge (BB-5) until September 1917, after which he assumed command of USS Margaret (SP-527). He was assigned to USS Allen (DD-66) in February 1918 before taking command of USS Benham (DD-49) in May 1918. For distinguished service as Commanding Officer USS Benham, engaged in the important, exacting, and hazardous duty of patrolling European waters and protecting vitally important convoys, he was awarded the Navy Cross.
On January 1, 1942, Rear Admiral Fletcher took command of Task Force 17 built around the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). He, a surface fleet admiral, was chosen over more senior officers to lead a carrier task force. He learned air operations on the job while escorting troops to the South Pacific. He was junior TF commander under tutelage of the experts: Vice Admiral William Halsey during the Marshalls-Gilberts raids in February; Vice Admiral Wilson Brown attacking the enemy landings on New Guinea in March; and had aviation expert Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with him during the first battle at Coral Sea.
In May 1942, he commanded the task forces during the Battle of the Coral Sea. This battle is famous as the first carrier-on-carrier battle fought between fleets that never came within sight of each other.
Fletcher with Yorktown, Task Force 17, had been patrolling the Coral Sea and rendezvoused with Rear Admiral Aubrey Fitch with USS Lexington (CV-2), Task Force 11, and a tanker group. Fletcher finished refueling first and headed West. On hearing the enemy was occupying Tulagi, TF 17 attacked the landing beaches, sinking several small ships before rejoining Lexington and an Australian cruiser force under Rear Admiral John Gregory Crace on May 5.
The next day, intelligence reported a Japanese invasion task force headed for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and a Carrier Strike Force was in the area. The morning of May 7, Fletcher sent the Australian cruisers to stop the transports while he sought the carriers. His combat pilots sank Japanese aircraft carrier Shh, escorting the enemy troop ships, — "Scratch one flat top." radioed Lt. Commander Robert Dixon flying back to the USS Lexington. That same day, Japanese carrier planes of Rear Admiral Chuichi Hara found the American tanker USS Neosho (AO-23). Believing they had found a carrier, they severely damaged her after several all-out attacks, and sank her escorting destroyer, USS Sims (DD-409); on May 11, USS Henley (DD-391) located her, rescued the surviving crew, and sank her by naval gunfire.
On May 8, at first light, "round three opened." Fletcher launched seventy-five aircraft, Hara sixty-nine. Fitch had greater experience in handling air operations, and Fletcher had him direct that function, as he was to do again later with Noyes at Guadalcanal. Shokaku was hit, but not damaged below waterline; it slunk away. Zuikaku had earlier dodged under a squall. The Japanese attack put two torpedoes into Lexington, which was abandoned that evening. Yorktown was hit near her island, but survived. Hara failed to use Zuikaku to achieve victory and withdrew. The invasion fleet without air cover, also withdrew, thereby halting the Port Moresby invasion. Fletcher had achieved the objective of the mission at the cost of a carrier, tanker, and destroyer. In addition, his Wildcats had beaten Japanese air groups, 52 to 35, and had damaged Shokaku,; neither Japanese carrier would be able to join the fight at Midway the following month.
This was the first World War II battle in which the Imperial Japanese Navy had been stopped. In battles in Pearl Harbor, East Indies, Australia and Ceylon, they had defeated the British, Dutch, and Asiatic Fleets, and had not lost a fleet ship larger than mine sweepers and submarines.
In November 1942, he became Commander, Thirteenth Naval District and Commander, Northwestern Sea Frontier to calm the public fear of invasion from the north. A year later, he was placed in charge of the whole Northern Pacific area, holding that position until after the end of World War II, when his forces occupied northern Japan. He also held that command when he ordered the front to bombard the Kurile Islands and other operations as well.
Vice Admiral Fletcher was appointed to the Navy's General Board in 1946 and retired as Chairman of that governing board in May 1947 with the rank of full Admiral. He retired to his country estate, Araby, in Maryland.
For distinguished conduct in battle, engagements of Vera Cruz, 21 and 22 April 1914. Under fire, Lt. Fletcher was eminent and conspicuous in performance of his duties. He was in charge of the Esperanze and succeeded in getting on board over 350 refugees, many of them after the conflict had commenced. Although the ship was under fire, being struck more than 30 times, he succeeded in getting all the refugees placed in safety. Lt. Fletcher was later placed in charge of the train conveying refugees under a flag of truce. This was hazardous duty, as it was believed that the track was mined, and a small error in dealing with the Mexican guard of soldiers might readily have caused a conflict, such a conflict at one time being narrowly averted. It was greatly due to his efforts in establishing friendly relations with the Mexican soldiers that so many refugees succeeded in reaching Vera Cruz from the interior.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
Section 2, Lot 4736-E