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VADM John D. Bulkeley, U.S. Navy (1933-1975)

John D. Bulkeley was a Vice Admiral in the United States Navy and 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. 

Biography of John D. Bulkeley

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

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.”

John D. Bulkeley earned many of his array of decorations while in command of that squadron and a subsequent one. In addition to his Medal of Honor, he was awarded a Navy Cross, two Distinguished Crosses, and two Silver Stars.

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 Melville, Rhode Island. Kennedy’s heroic captaining of the PT 109 would help to launch his first campaign for Congress. 

Bulkeley led torpedo boats and minesweepers in clearing the lanes to Utah Beach, 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. Afterward, 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.”

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

In the early 1960s, John D. 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, 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.

J. Bulkeley retired from active duty

VADM John D. 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. Bulkeley retired from the Navy in 1988, after 55 years of service.

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


Tags: Distinguished Crosses, Korean War, Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey, New York City, Silver Stars, Triumph TR3, United States Naval Academy, United States Navy, USS Corry (DD-463), USS Endicott (DD-495), USS Rich (DE-695), USS Tide (AM-125), World War II


  1. Charles Carroll

    I met him once in Hawaii Naval Shipyard. The yard was trying to screw us to get the ship out to sea and end the yard overhaul. He was very no nonsense, easy for me to talk to and ultimately set the yard on a straight course.

  2. Edmundo Valenzuela

    Nothing more to say. A true American hero.

  3. Fred bergey MCPO ret

    where are men like him today

  4. George Seward, GSMC USN Retired

    I Met VAMD Bulkeley a number of times while working for Superviser of Shipbuilding Long Beach Naval Shipyard from 1976-1980. He was a very easy man to talk with even as and enlisted person. Even at his advanced age you never new where you would run into him at on the ship during the INSERV inspection.

  5. Jeff McClelland

    I knew VADM Bulkeley and his entire family in the 1950’s when we both attended the same church in Silver Spring, MD, where my Dad was the minister. I had a major crush on his daughter. I think her name was Joan.

  6. pat whitehead

    I served under his command at Clarksville Base Tennessee (situated on Ft Campbell) from Oct 1960 until his transfer to GITMO on Octobert 31 1963. Best officer I ever had the privilege to serve with.

    Command Master Chief Pat Whitehead, retired July 31, 1985

  7. Captain Herman Hughes, USNR Retired

    I worked for Admiral Bulkeley in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 1964-66. He pinned on my new “railroad tracks” when I made Lieutenant.

    • Julia

      Thank you for your service.

  8. Roy G, Brewer

    I was a yeoman on his staff in Cuba in 1962, 1963. I watched him standing as the crew cut off the water pipeline from Cuba.
    One funny episode was when he was meeting with the Marine Commandant on the base, and they were determining where to encamp the new company coming. The Marine Commandant said I think the golf course. Admiral said, I mean where are you going to put the new marines? Finally, the Commandant got the subtle message: Not on my golf course.

    A great man.

  9. Robert Nunes

    After 4 trips to Vietnam (1 Gator Navy LST-839) I went to College for Forestry/Land Survey. After a Chef Apprenticeship at *World Famous – Chez Cary*went to work on Mega Yacht *Mustang X* (Ford & Vosper Thornycroft Stabilizers at Balboa Bay Club, Newport Beach. Where I worked with Admiral Bulkeley (in charge of total refurbishment of USS New Jersey) & Advisor to the President Admiral Sonnenshine, developing *Pitch Stabilization* to aid in keeping ships/boats level for better accuracy!

    I worked with many US Navy and Vosper (built Harrier Jets & Roll Stabilizers – BAE now) engineers on a Grant to George Gaudin who patented the Pitch Idea as I was cook on Yacht Mustang X as I got sea-sick in Galey located in the bow. That’s where the idea came from, although I think it was an excuse to get Grant Development Program going. But… yes I wore many hats; including installing Vosper Roll stabilizers, chauffer, boat maintenance, 1st Mate, etc.

    When it came time to test these Pitch Stabilizers… we not only had Navy & Vosper Engineers, but Admirals Bulkeley & Sonnenshine on board. Night before another Stabilizer Company owner (who was dying of cancer) was talking to me (the Cook) about why all these Brainiac’s couldn’t get them working. So I told him I’d suggested they were over building them (too powerful of hydraulics) and too large of Stern Fins!

    That night Admiral Bulkeley & the rest were in the dinning room of Mustang X. Bulkeley was telling all his stories from *Rescuing General MacArthur* off Corregidor under fire from Japanese Forces (MacArthur’s speech to Philippines *I shall return* to being assigned to rescue Guantanamo Naval Base from Castro’s Cuba. While at the same time he wasn’t all talk, but a man of action… a “Never Say Die” kind of guy!

    Told us (I was on the stairs to galley forward) about having his *Triumph* sports car shipped over while he got a water maker, generators going (when Castro cut off power & water). With a gleam in his eyes, he talked about driving it around the base to be seen by Castro just daring them to fire at him while he’d smoke a Cuban cigar… the Cuban base workers brought him, when he opened the gates to let in their families! Bulkeley was definitely a Man’s Man!

    I had set up a plan with this Florida Stabilizer guy to install an extra gyro in the bow of the boat & tilt it so as to work like an Accelerometer would do for Rise & Fall. We put a switch in for if the Engineers bent on doing it their way… Failed. Next day in Sea Trials with all aboard… in Heavy Seas we were bobbing like a cork, when they turned the system on, it dove the BOW UNDER BLUE WATER! …luckily they got it turned off (this wasn’t the 1st time they failed). So this guy (dying of cancer) told Admiral Bulkeley on Test Craft (the Yacht Enterprise) that Tony (me as middle name Anthony) had an idea and all we had to do was flip a switch to see if my idea worked!

    Admiral Bulkeley hanging on like the rest of us, “Well we’re already out here bobbing like a cork in heavy seas… so why not!” So I did… and Enterprise leveled right out. Engineers ran their testing, but you know they were pissed that a COOK had showed them up in Front of Admiral Bulkeley and Advisor to the President Admiral Sonnenshine. And me? I got pics of Bulkeley’s *Triumph* the Enterprise Sea Trial 70 ft Boat they shook my hand for doing what those Engineers Couldn’t!


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