Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Lee, Willis A., Jr.

Lee, Willis A., Jr.

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Vice Admiral, USN, (1888-1945)

Willis A. Lee, Jr. was born in Natlee, Kentucky, on 11 May 1888. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1908. Over the next two decades, he served in several ships and on shore duty as an inspector of ordnance, while also representing the Navy in rifle competitions and on the U.S. Olympic rifle team. He was Commanding Officer of three destroyers during the 1920s and attended the Naval War College late in that decade.


During the 1930s and early 1940s, Lee was several times assigned to the Fleet Training Division, commanded the light cruiser Concord, and served on the staff of Commander, Cruisers, Battle Force. In early 1942, following his promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral, Lee became Assistant Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet.


In August 1942, Rear Admiral Lee was sent to the Pacific to command a Battleship Division. Flying his flag in USS Washington (BB-56), he was active through the Guadalcanal Campaign and led his force to victory over a Japanese surface group in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on the night of 14-15 November 1942. He was later promoted and placed in charge of the Pacific Fleet's fast battleships. In May 1945, he was sent to the Atlantic to command a special unit researching defenses against the Kamikaze threat. While serving in that position on 25 August 1945, Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee died suddenly after suffering a heart attack.


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