John Pinckney Wheeler Vest was born in Washington DC, on 10 November 1901, son of George P. and Agatha Conway Wheeler Vest. He attended Latin School in Baltimore, Maryland, and Gunston School, Centreville, Maryland, prior to entering the US Naval academy on 13 June 1918, on appointment from the Seventh District of Missouri. As a Midshipman he played water polo and lacrosse, and participated in cruises in the battleships Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan and Kansas. He was graduated and commissioned Ensign in the US Navy on 3 June 1922, and subsequently advanced to the rank of Captain, with date of rank 1 April 1943. He was transferred to the Retired List of the US Navy on 30 June 1952.
After graduation from the Naval Academy in June 1922, he was assigned to USS Maryland, and served as a junior officer on board that battleship until June 1925, except for six months in 1923 when he has instruction at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island. On 31 July 1925, he reported to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, and on 24 April 1926, was designated Naval Aviator. He was detached with orders to Aircraft Squadrons, Scouting Fleet, and was assigned duty with Torpedo Squadron ONE, attached to USS Wright. The squadron was transferred in March 1928 to USS Lexington, a carrier of the Battle Fleet, and continued duty as a pilot until March 1929.
He next reported to the Hydrographic Office, Navy Department, Washington, DC, and served there for three years. From March to September 1932 he was assigned to the Alaskan Survey Expedition, and after five months’ service with Scouting Squadron 3, based on the Lexington, he was attached to USS Argonne. In September 1933 he rejoined Scouting Squadron 3 of the Lexington, and in June 1934 was transferred to duty as a pilot of the Aviation Unit of USS Arizona.
Duty at the Fleet Air Base, CoCo Solo, Canal Zone, from July 1935 to December 1936, was followed by pre-commissioning duty with USS Enterprise at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia, and service on board that aircraft carrier from her commissioning on 12 May 1938, until November of that year. He then assumed command of Torpedo Squadron 5, based on USS Yorktown, and during the period June 1940 until July 1941, he successively commanded Cruiser Scouting Squadrons 5 and 4 and the Heavy Cruiser Aircraft Wing.
In July 1941 he became Assistant US Naval Attache and Assistant Naval Attache for Air (his title changed to Special Naval Observer, Air, in September) and reported to the American Embassy, London, England. He returned to the United States in the spring of 1942 and was assigned to the staff of the Commander in Chief, US Fleet, until November 1943. During that period he had additional duty with the US Naval Forces in Europe, with our forces in the Pacific Area, and as a Member of the Allied Anti-Submarine Board.
From November 1943 until November 1944 he commanded USS Croatan (CVE 25) and was in command of a Task Group of the Atlantic Fleet. He was awarded the Legion of Merit “For exceptionally meritorious conduct…as Commander of a Task Group in the Atlantic Fleet…” during that period. The citation further states:
“A forceful and inspiring leader, dauntless in performance of duty, Captain Vest directed the operations of his command with vigor and determination, making possible the distinctive achievement by his fighting forces in sinking a notable number of enemy German submarines… (and) contributed in large measure to the increased safety of convoys moving overseas in support of the Allied operations in European and African theaters of war.”
On 19 December 1944, he reported as Director, Aviation Training Section, Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air), Navy Department, and in December 1945 was assigned additional duty as Navy Member of the Combined Committee on Air Training in North America. For outstanding service as Director of Aviation Training during the latter months of the war, he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Legion of Merit. The citation states, in part:
“His leadership and wise judgment in overcoming difficult morale problems, in extensive redeployment of training facilities and personnel and in planning and preparation for postwar training were outstanding. He demonstrated keen administrative and organizational ability and aided materially in the development of Aviation Training to such a state of effectiveness that the pilots it produced became a major factor in the defeat of the enemies of this country…”
In October 1946, a year after that aircraft carrier was commissioned, he assumed command of USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42). On 3 November 1947, he was ordered detached for duty as Commander Marshall Islands Sub-Area in the Pacific, and served in that capacity until April 1949. He then returned to the Navy Department, and served until relieved of all active duty pending his retirement in June 1952 as Aviation Member of the Board of Inspection and Survey, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Captain Vest died 3 January 1993.
In addition to the Legion of Merit with Gold Star, Captain Vest had the Victory Medal (World War I, as Midshipman, USNA); the American Defense Service Medal, Float Clasp; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; American Campaign Medal; and World War II Victory Medal.