John Joseph Shea, born in Cambridge, Mass., on 13 January 1898, enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force (USNRF) on 11 June 1918. At the time of his release from active duty in 1919, he was promoted to the rank of ensign. He was honorably discharged in 1921 and reappointed in 1923. With the abolition of the USNRF in 1925, he was transferred to the Fleet Reserve. In 1941, he was transferred to the Regular Navy in the rank of lieutenant commander.
Lt. Comdr. Shea was serving in the aircraft carrier Wasp (CV-7) on 15 September 1942, when she was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese. He left the relative safety of his own station to direct the fight against the raging inferno on Wasp's flight deck. Amid frequent explosions and flying debris, he worked to save the ship. He was leading out another hose to continue the struggle against the fires in a ready ammunition room when a shattering explosion occurred. In all probability, Lt. Cmdr. Shea perished in that explosion; but, lacking concrete proof of death, he was declared Missing in Action until a year and a day later when he was declared legally dead. Shea was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart medals and was promoted to commander, all posthumously.
(DM-30: displacement 2,200; length 376'6"; beam 40'0"; draft 18'8"; speed 34.2 knots; complement 363; armament 6 5-inch, 12 40 millimeter, 8 20 millimeter, 4 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks ; class Robert H. Smith)
Shea (DD-750) was laid down on 23 December 1943, two days after Christmas, at Staten Island, N.Y., by the Bethlehem Steel Co., yard; launched on 20 May 1944; sponsored by Mrs. John J. Shea; widow of the late Lt. Cmdr. Shea; selected for conversion to a light minelayer and redesignated DM-30 on 20 July 1944; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 30 September 1944, Cmdr. Charles C. Kirkpatrick in command.
Shea spent 15 more days completing her fitting-out. She then loaded ammunition at Earle and Bayonne, N.J., returned briefly to New York and departed for her shakedown cruise on 21 October 1944. She completed shakedown training at and around Great Sound Bay, Bermuda, and was underway for Norfolk, Va., on 16 November. Shea's crew underwent a month of further training in the Norfolk area before embarking, 13 December, for Brooklyn, arriving the next day.
From Brooklyn, Shea moved on to San Francisco Bay, California. Sailing with Task Group (TG) 27.3, she transited the Panama Canal, 20-22 December, and made San Francisco on the last day of 1944. Four days later, she was underway for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, and 13 more days of training . Another round of exercises complete, she steamed out of Pearl Harbor bound for Eniwetok Atoll in the western Pacific, arriving on 2 March. After 17 days in the vicinity of Eniwetok, her crew engaged in still more of the perennial training exercises. Shea departed for Ulithi Atoll on the first leg of her voyage toward Okinawa.
On 19 March 1945, she sailed from Ulithi and joined TG 52.3. By 24 March, Shea was off Okinawa helping prepare the way for the 1 April invasion. While her primary mission was to protect and assist the minesweepers clearing the area of enemy mines, she also stood radar picket duty all around Okinawa. During the period 24 March-4 May, she was constantly fending off Japanese air attacks and guarding against enemy submarines. Moreover, she probably sank or severely damaged at least one submarine and, on 16 April, in the space of 10 minutes, splashed no less than six enemy planes.
On the morning of 4 May 1945, Shea was en route to radar picket duty 20 miles northeast of Zampa Misaki, Okinawa. She arrived just after 0600, having encountered two Japanese aircraft along the way, firing on both and possibly splashing one. Upon receipt of reports indicating the approach of large Japanese air formations, Shea's crew went to General Quarters. Soon thereafter, a “considerable smoke haze blew over the ship from the Hagushi beaches” and “visibility was at a maximum 5.000 yards.” At 0854 a single enemy Mitsyubishi G4M Type 97 land attack plane [Betty] was sighted six miles distant; and, four minutes later, one was shot down by Shea-directed CAP.
At 0859, five minutes after the initial sighting, a lookout spotted a Japanese Baka bomb on Shea's starboard beam, closing the ship at better than 450 knots. Almost instantaneously, the Baka crashed Shea "on the starboard side of her bridge structure, entering the sonar room, traversing the chart house, passageway and hatch, and exploding beyond the port side on the surface of the water. Fire broke out in the mess hall, CIC, chart house, division commander's stateroom, [no.] 2 upper handling room, and compartment A-304-L." Shea lost all ship's communications, her forward twin 5-inch mounts [Mt. 51 and Mt. 52] were knocked out, and the forward port 20 millimeter guns damaged. The main director was jammed in train and the gyro and computer rendered unserviceable. One officer and 26 men were killed, and 91 others were wounded to varying degrees.
With repair parties and survivors from damaged areas scurrying about, helping the wounded and fighting fires, Shea, listing 5 degrees to port, began limping off to Hagushi and medical assistance. She arrived there at 1052; her most seriously wounded crew members were transferred to the attack transport Crescent City (APA-21) ; and the bodies of the 27 dead were removed for burial on Okinawa. Shea then resumed her limping, this time to Kerama Retto anchorage. At Kerama Retto, she underwent repairs and disgorged all but 10 percent of her ammunition. In addition, much of her gear, particularly radar and fighter direction equipment, was transferred to DesRon 2 for distribution to less severely damaged ships. After a memorial service on 11 May for her deadcrewmen and the removal of some armament, Shea was underway on 15 May to join convoy OKU 4 (Task Unit 51.29.9), heading for Ulithi Atoll.
Shea got underway from Ulithi on 27 May 1945 and, after a three-day layover at Pearl Harbor, departed for Philadelphia on 9 June. She arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 2 July, visiting San Diego and transiting the Panama Canal en route. Shea underwent extensive repairs and post-repair trials before leaving Philadelphia on 11 October for shakedown at Casco Bay, Maine. While in the area, Shea celebrated her first peacetime Navy Day at Bath, Maine.
From 1946 to late 1953, Shea was engaged in normal operations with the Atlantic Fleet. Assigned to Mine Division 2 and based at Charleston, S.C., she ranged the Atlantic seaboard and Caribbean Sea. This employment was interrupted late in 1950 by a Mediterranean cruise, during which she visited Trieste on a liaison mission with the British forces in the area. Shea returned to Charleston and the Atlantic Fleet on 1 February 1951 and remained so engaged until September 1953 when she reentered the Pacific.
Shea spent the remainder of her active service in the Pacific, based at Long Beach, California. She participated in numerous minelaying and antisubmarine exercises off the west coast, covering the area from Mexico north to British Columbia and west to Hawaii. In the spring of 1954, she made her only excursion out of that area when she took part in the atomic tests conducted at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. This was her first and only return to any of her old World War II haunts. She arrived back in Long Beach on 28 May and remained in the area until 9 April 1958 when she was placed out of commission in reserve.
Shea was reclassified as a fast minelayer, MMD-30, on 1 January 1969, but never returned tio active service, Surveyed and deemed not to be up to fleet standards, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 September 1973 and disposed of, by Navy Sale exactly one year later, on 1 September 1974..
Shea received the Navy Unit Commendation for her performance of duty off Okinawa (24 March-4 May 1945).in addition to one battle star for her participation in the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto (25 March-16 May 1945), as well as
Updated, Robert J. Cressman,
13 May 2020