Biographies in Naval History banner
Lieutenant Commander John D. Bulkeley, USN. Photograph dated 4 September 1942. Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic section, #80-G-70595.

Rear Admiral
John Duncan Bulkeley,
US Navy

1911 - 1996

John Duncan Bulkeley was born in New York, New York on 19 August 1911, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick F. Bulkeley. His childhood was spent in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and he was graduated from Hackettstown High School in New Jersey in 1928. In June 1929 he entered the US Navy Academy, by competitive examination, on appointment of Representative Morgan G. Sanders of Texas, and was graduated on 1 June 1933. Commissioned Ensign in the US Navy a year later, he was promoted as follows: Lieutenant (jg), 29 May 1937; Lieutenant, 1 April 1941; Lieutenant Commander, 1 October 1942 (for meritorious service); Commander, 1 January 1944; and Captain, 1 July 1952. His selection for the rank of Rear Admiral was approved by the President of the United States on 31 May 1963, his date of rank 1 February 1964.

After being commissioned in June 1934, he served successively as a junior officer in the USS Indianapolis, USS Chaumont, USS Sacramento, and USS Saratoga. In February and March 1941 he commanded Submarine Chaser Division TWO, and for five months thereafter served as Commander, Submarine Chaser Division ONE. In August of that year he assumed command of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE, about which one of the most spectacular chapters of the Philippine Campaign was written. The Japanese first felt the sting of MTBRON THREE on 10 December 1941, just after their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, when they bombed the Cavite Navy Yard.

Rear Admiral Bulkeley is identified with the break-through of the Japanese lines for transportation of General Douglas MacArthur and his Staff from Corregidor and Bataan, Philippine Islands, to Mindanao Island, from whence the General was flown to Australia to assume overall command of the Armed Forces in the Pacific. Shortly thereafter, Bulkeley returned to Negros Island, located and transported President Quezon, Vice President Osmena, their Staffs, and the Quezon family through the Japanese lines to Mindanao to be flown to Australia. He remained behind to fight holding and guerilla actions until ordered out by General MacArthur after the collapse of all resistance to the Japanese. He then was ordered to New Guinea, where he fought PT boats in actions including the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, the Invasion of Finschhafen, and the Troboriand Islands.

For his service in defense of the Philippines, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a similar award, the Army Silver Star Medal, the Army Distinguished Unit Badge, and the Republic of the Philippines Distinguished Conduct Star. The citations follow in part.

Medal of Honor: "For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service and conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, as Commander of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE in Philippine waters during the period December 7, 1941 to April 10, 1942. The remarkable achievement of Lieutenant 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 four months and eight days of operations without benefit of repair, 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 an outstanding leader of men and a gallant and intrepid seaman. These qualities coupled with a complete disregard for his own person safety reflect great credit upon him and the Naval service."

Navy Cross: "For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Number 34 in connection with military operations against the Japanese enemy forces in the Philippine Area. Despite machine gun fire, Lieutenant Bulkeley searched Binanga Bay, Luzon, P.I., for an enemy ship reported therein, located and sank the unidentified 5,000 ton enemy ship with torpedoes without serious damage to his ship or casualty to his crew."

Army Distinguished Service Cross: "For extraordinary heroism in action in the vicinity of Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippine Islands, on January 18, and January 25, 1942. When a hostile vessel was reported in Binanga Bay, Luzon, on January 18, Lieutenant Bulkeley proceeded with a squadron of two motor torpedo boats to search it out and attack it. When one of the two patrol boats became disabled, Lieutenant Bulkeley continued on his mission with the other. In spite of challenge by several enemy shore observation posts and by a hostile patrolling vessel and fire from an enemy shore battery, Lieutenant Bulkeley entered Port Binanga, located the hostile vessel and attacked it with two torpedoes, one of which struck it and set it afire. Again, on the night January 24, (he) successfully attacked an enemy merchant vessel off Sampaloc Point, Luzon. After firing the first torpedo which struck the target amid ships and exploded, the torpedo boat came under heavy fire from the hostile ship and from shore batteries. In spite of this fire, Lieutenant Bulkeley continued his attack to with five hundred yards, firing another torpedo and attacking with machine gun fire, (and) seriously hampered hostile operations on the west coast of Bataan."

Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Distinguished Service Cross: "For extraordinary heroism in action in Mindanao Sea, Philippine Islands, on the night of April 8-9, 1942. When Lieutenant Bulkeley, in command of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE, encountered a hostile cruiser accompanied by destroyers, he unhesitatingly ordered an attack by the two boats in his squadron in spite of the tremendous odds. After the vessel on which he was embarked had fired all its torpedoes in an attack against the enemy cruiser, Lieutenant Bulkeley, at great personal risk, directed the aggressive maneuver of this vessel so as to draw to it the bulk of the hostile fire, enabling the other boat to deliver a torpedo attack at close range. As a result of this daring combined maneuver, the enemy cruiser was destroyed. After this action, Lieutenant Bulkeley skillfully withdrew his command, evading the pursuing hostile destroyers."

Army Silver Star Medal: "Made detailed plans involving exacting preparations for a movement of major strategic importance and of the most hazard nature; they executed the mission with marked skill and coolness in the face of greatly superior enemy forces."

Army Distinguished Unit Badge: "In recognition of your service with Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron THREE in defense of the Philippines under Army command during the period 7 December 1941 to 9 April 1942."

The Republic of the Philippines Distinguished Conduct Star: "For extraordinary coolness in the face of danger the Distinguished Conduct Star of the Philippines is, by order of His Excellency, the President of the Philippines, hereby awarded to Lieutenant J.D. Bulkeley, USN. During the trip of the motor torpedo boat that transported from Dumaguete, Negros, Oriental, to Oroquieta, Misamis, His Excellency, the President, his family, member [sic] of his cabinet and other members of this party, the heavy sea broke the restraining pins of both aft torpedoes, leaving them partly out of the torpedo tubes and with their mechanism set into action. With extraordinary coolness he directed the immediate release of both torpedoes thus saving the persons on board the motor torpedo boat from an impending death. His timely action in holding Torpedoman First Class Houlihan, prevented the latter from falling overboard while disengaging one of the torpedoes with a hammer."

He was also awarded a Purple Heart Medal for wounds received during an enemy Japanese attack in Mariveles Harbor, Bataan, Philippine Islands, on December 26, 1941.

Between May and September 1942 he served as Experimental officer at the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, then returned to sea in command of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron SEVEN, operating with the SEVENTH Fleet. During the period September 1943 to March 1944 he was hospitalized, and on 23 March 1944, assumed command of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron TWO. In May 1944 he reported as Commander PT Squadron ONE HUNDRED TWO, and was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat "V", and the following citation:

Legion of Merit: "For exceptional meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services in command of motor torpedo boat squadrons which participated in operations in the Bay of Seine, France, from June 6 to July 14, 1944, during the invasion of Normandy. The motor torpedo boats under Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley's command were employed as part of the Western Naval Task Force Area Screen and as advance anti-E-boat patrol groups. They were also employed to sink floating flares dropped by German planes to guide their bombers to the anchorage areas. These tasks were performed with great effectiveness and contributed largely to the safety of the large number of vessels inside the area screen. This outstanding performance of duty reflects great credit upon Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley and upon the United States Naval Service."

On 18 July 1944, he assumed command of the USS Endicott, a destroyer deployed in European waters for the Invasion of Southern France. Prior to the Invasion, on 17 August 1944, he conducted tactical deception with 22 PTs and the destroyer Endicott which resulted in the Germans believing that the main landings for the invasion of Southern France would come in the Baie de la Ciotat area vice St. Maxime area. A sequel to the tactical deception was a running gun fight with two German destroyers in which both were sunk. 214 German prisoners were captured, 168 killed and both German captains were captured. Only a handful of Americans were wounded by two direct hits on the Endicott. He was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Silver Star Medal and cited:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action as Commanding Officer, USS Endicott during the amphibious invasion of Southern France on August 16-17, 1944. Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley, exercising fearless determination, first brought his ship within easy range of enemy coastal batteries in the Baie de la Ciotat area and effectively bombarded shore targets in support of a special assault mission. After withdrawal of this group on the morning of August 17th, he went to the assistance of several units which were engaging enemy vessels of superior strength. He pressed his attack with great skill and courage in delivering accurate and vigorous gunfire against the enemy and exerted unrelenting pressure during the running action which ensued until both ships were sunk by the combined efforts of our forces..."

He was also presented the Croix de Guerre with Star by the government of France, presented by General De Gaulle, for his part in the invasion of Normandy.

Detached from command of the Endicott, he reported in August 1945 to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's plant in Staten Island, New York, to assist in fitting out the USS Stribling, and assumed command of that destroyer at her commissioning, 29 September 1945. In July 1946 he was assigned to the Staff of the Naval Academy, where he remained until May 1948. He then joined the USS Mount Olympus, flagship of Commander Amphibious Group TWO, and served as her Executive Officer until July 1949.

From August 1949 until January 1950 he was a student at the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia, after which he was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, DC. There he became Chief of the Weapons Division of the Military Liaison Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission, for the research and development of atomic weapons. From October 1952 until March 1954 he commanded Destroyer Division ONE HUNDRED THIRTY TWO, which operated in the Far East during the Korean Conflict. The next month he became Chief of Staff and Aide to Commander Cruiser Division FIVE, operating in Korean waters.

During the period January 1956 to March 1958 he again served in Washington, DC, this time as a Staff Officer of the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was next ordered to command of the Tolovana, a fleet oiler, and sailed out of Long Beach, California, for a six-months assignment of "deep draft" command. When detached from the Tolovana in September 1958, he reported to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, Washington, DC, for a brief indoctrination tour of personnel administration, and in February 1959 was ordered to sea as Commander Destroyer Squadron TWELVE. He assumed command of 22 April 1959.

Detached from that combatant command on 5 July 1960, he assumed command of Clarksville Base, Clarksville, Tennessee, a major weapons base. On 12 December 1963, he assumed command of the Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the period from assumption of command until his detachment 14 June 1966, the base came under harassment from the government of Cuba. This culminated in the government of Cuba stopping the water into the base on 6 February 1964. The base was not evacuated and stringent use of water was maintained. On the broadcast accusations of Cuba that the base was stealing water from the pipeline by pumping, Admiral Bulkeley of 18 February 1964 cut the pipeline within the base and sealed it. This was widely published and effectively silenced the accusations which were false that the base was stealing water. A desalinization plant was built starting 1 April 1964 and the first water was made on 26 July 1966 making the base forever independent of the water from the Yatares River located within Cuba.

On 14 June 1966 Admiral Bulkeley was relieved of his command and assumed command of Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla EIGHT and in the Mediterranean deployment he commanded Fast Attack Carrier Task Group SIX ZERO POINT TWO. He was relieved of this duty in June 1967, then reported to Washington, DC, for duty as President of the Board of Inspection and Survey. "For exceptionally meritorious service...from June 1967 to January 1972..." he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. The citation further states in part:

"...Rear Admiral Bulkeley's superb performance of duty in a vitally important assignment has been a strong contributing factor in the improved readiness of the Navy's forces afloat and thereby of the Navy at large..."

On 1 January 1974 he was transferred to the Retired List of the US Navy. Rear Admiral Bulkeley died 6 April 1996.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star Medal (Army) with Gold Star in lieu of the Second Silver Star Medal (Navy), the Legion of Merit with Combat "V", the Army Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart Medal, Army Distinguished Unit Emblem, and the French and Philippine Decorations, Rear Admiral Bulkeley has the China Service Medal with bronze star; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star; Korean Service Medal; United Nations Service Medal; the Korean Presidential Unit Citation Badge; and the Philippine Defense Ribbon. He also had the Expert Pistol Shot Medal and Expert Rifleman Medal.


Source: Adapted from the biographical sketch for Rear Admiral John D. Bulkeley, USN. Biographies Branch, Navy Office of Information, 23 January 1974, now part of the Modern Biography files, Navy Department Library.

More images of Rear Admiral Bulkeley online.



About Us | Privacy Policy | Webmaster | FOIA request | Navy.mil | This is a US Navy website