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John Charles Waldron
Born (1900-08-24)August 24, 1900
Died June 4, 1942(1942-06-04) (aged 41)
Place of birth Fort Pierre, South Dakota
Place of death near Midway Atoll
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1924-1942
Rank Lieutenant Commander
Commands held Torpedo Squadron 8

World War II

Awards Navy Cross
Presidential Unit Citation (US)
Purple Heart

John Charles Waldron (August 24, 1900 – June 4, 1942) was a United States Navy aviator who led a squadron of torpedo bombers in World War II. He and most of his squadron perished in the Battle of Midway.

Birth and early life[]

Waldron was born on August 24, 1900[1] at Fort Pierre, South Dakota, son of rancher Charles Westbrook Waldron and Jane Van Metre[2] grandson of lawyer and probate Judge George Prentiss Waldron,[3] and a sixth great nephew of Richard Waldron.[4] He was of colonial New Hampshire families on his father's side,[5][6] and of Oglala Lakota on his mother's side. In the midst of his armed forces career he married Adelaide Wentworth and had two daughters. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, but never practiced.[7]

Naval aviation training and shore duty[]

He received an appointment as midshipman from his home state on June 16, 1920 and graduated with the United States Naval Academy Class of 1924. Following his initial sea duty in Seattle (CA-11), Waldron went to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., where he received his wings in the summer of 1927. Over the ensuing months, Waldron flew with torpedo squadrons (VT-1S and VT-9S and received his promotion to Lieutenant (j.g.) on February 16, 1928. He served at the Naval Academy from May 24 to September 13, 1929, where he instructed midshipmen in the field of aviation. Then, after duty as an instructor at the NAS Pensacola, between October 1929 and June 1931, Waldron went to sea again, this time with Scouting Squadron 3B (VS-3B), based on board Lexington (CV-2), reporting for duty on July 1, 1931.

Waldron flew observation aircraft off Colorado (BB-45), before he joined Patrol Squadron 1B (VP-1B), Battle Force, for a brief period in late 1936. Subsequently, flying from Saratoga (CV-3) with Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3) until the early summer of 1939, he reported back to NAS, Pensacola, for further instructor's duty on June 27, 1939. Waldron then served three successive tours of shore duty, all involving flying, at the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, Va.; the Bureau of Ordnance, Washington, D.C.; and finally in the 3rd Naval District, where he was appointed naval inspector of ordnance at the plant of Carl L. Norden, Inc., in New York—makers of the famed Norden bombsight. Detached from that duty in the summer of 1941, Lt. Comdr. Waldron took command of the newly formed Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8), part of the embryonic air group being assembled for the new fleet carrier Hornet (CV-8) at Newport News, Virginia. The Pearl Harbor attack, though, meant that his training of his men had to be intensive.

At Midway[]

"Torpedo 8" did not get a chance to practice its trade, however, until nearly 10 months after it had been commissioned at Norfolk. Too late to take part in the Battle of the Coral Sea, VT-8 would receive its brutal baptism of fire at the turning point of the Pacific War—the Battle of Midway. In the days preceding that battle, VT-8 led a relaxed existence on board the carrier as she steamed toward "Point Luck" from Pearl Harbor in the first few days of June 1942. Finally, on the eve of battle, Commander Waldron called his men together and distributed a mimeographed plan of attack. He concluded by saying that if worst came to worst, he wanted each man to do his utmost to destroy the enemy. "If there is only one plane left to make a final run-in," he told his men, "I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all. Good luck, happy landings, and give 'em hell."

The next day, June 4, the 15 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators of VT-8 launched from Hornet's flight deck in search of the enemy. Before takeoff, LCDR Waldron had a dispute with the Hornet's Commander, Air Group, Stanhope C. Ring, and Hornet CO Marc Mitscher about where the Japanese carriers would be found. Despite having a contact report showing the Japanese southwest of Hornet, Mitscher and Ring ordered the flight to take a course due west, in the hopes of spotting a possible trailing group of carriers. Waldron argued for a course based on the contact report, but was overruled.[8] Once in the air, Waldron attempted to take control of the Hornet strike group by radio. Failing that, he soon split his squadron off and led his unit directly to the Japanese carrier group. Waldron, leading the first carrier attack group to approach the Japanese carriers (somewhat after 9:00AM local time, over an hour before the American dive bombers would arrive), was grimly aware of the lack of fighter protection, but true to his plan of attack committed Torpedo 8 to battle. Without fighter escort, his attack bombers vulnerably underpowered and lacking in defensive armament, and forced by the unreliability of their own torpedoes to fly low and slow directly at their targets, all of the Hornet's torpedo planes soon fell to the undivided attention of the enemy's combat air patrol of Mitsubishi "Zero" fighters. Of the 30 men who set out that morning, only one—Ens. George H. Gay, Jr., USNR—survived. Their sacrifice, however, had not been in vain. The TBDs had drawn down the fighter cover over the Japanese carriers and forced the ships to maneuver radically, delaying the aircraft rearming operations the Japanese were committed to. After two further, separate attacks by the remaining two attack squadrons over the next hour, the Japanese fighter cover and anti-air coordination had become overly focused on low-level defense, leaving the Japanese carriers completely vulnerable to the late-arriving Douglas SBD Dauntless high-altitude carrier dive bombers from Yorktown (CV-5) and Enterprise (CV-6). These U.S. planes then successfully dive-bombed and fatally damaged three of the four Japanese carriers, changing the course of the battle.

Torpedo 8 earned the Presidential Unit Citation (US); Lt. Comdr. Waldron received the Navy Cross posthumously, as well as a share of the unit citation. His role was reprised by actor Glenn Corbett in the Hollywood movie Midway.


The USS Waldron (DD-699), an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, was named in his honor.

Waldron Field, an outlying training landing strip, at Corpus Christi NAS, was named in his honor.

John C. Waldron Bridge (renamed in his honor in 2002) across the Missouri River between Pierre and Fort Pierre, SD.



  1. "John Charles Waldron - South Dakota Historical Markers on" accessed 30 July 2011
  2. Doane Robinson, "Charles Westbrook Waldron Biography", History of South Dakota, vol. 2, pp.1472-1473 as found at Maurice Krueger (ed.), accessed 30 July 2011
  3. Doane Robinson, "George P. Waldron Biography", History of South Dakota, vol. 2, pp.1440-1441 as found at Maurice Krueger (ed.), accessed 30 July 2011
  4. Rev. Alonzo H. Quint, John Scales, ed., "Walderne - Waldron Family" Historical Memoranda, p.234, describes the descent of John C. Waldron's great grandfather Jeremiah Waldron of Farmington, New Hampshire, through Col. John, Richard, John, and then William, brother of Major Richard Waldron.
  5. In 1905 John was a five-year-old living with a 62-year-old Massachusetts-born father and a 43-year-old South Dakota–born mother and siblings. "C.W." Waldron (the father) in turn had parents born in "N. Hampshire". South Dakota State Census, 1905 for John Waldron, C.W. Waldron (father), and Jane E. Waldron (mother) in, accessed 30 July 2011.
  6., submitter George Larson II, MA, accessed 20 February 2010
  7. Robert J. Mrazek, A Dawn Like Thunder,, accessed 20 Feb 2010.
  8. Mrazek, Robert J. "A Dawn Like Thunder"

External links[]

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