John James Chew was born in Washington, DC, on March 18, 1983, son of Robert Smith and Mary Cadey Chew, both now deceased. He attended Force School and Western High School in Washington, and was graduated from Cornell University with the degree of Mechanical Engineer in 1915. He entered the US Naval Reserve Force as Ensign in November 1917, and served throughout World War I and until he was released from active duty in the rank of Lieutenant (jg) in July 1919, the remained in the inactive Reserve until September 1921.
Entering the Civil Engineer Corps of the US Navy as a Lieutenant (jg) in September 1921, he advanced through subsequent promotions, to the rank of Captain, his date of rank June 20, 1942. He was transferred to the Retired List of the US Navy on June 30, 1954, but continues on active duty.
During his service with the Naval Reserve Force in World War I, he had two months instruction in the Bureau of Ordnance, Navy Department, Washington, DC, and from January 1918 to May of that year was Assistant Inspector of Ordnance in Charge at Detroit Michigan. He then returned to the Bureau of Ordnance, where he was Assistant to the Mine Desk Officer until released from active duty in July 1919.
Reporting in September 1921 to the Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he served as Assistant to the Public Works Officer until January 1925. He had similar duty until August 1927 at the Navy Yard, Charleston, South Carolina, where he supervised construction of the first landing field built there. For two years thereafter he was Public Works Officer at the Naval Station, Tutuila, Samoa.
Reporting in October 1929 to the Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he served as Power Superintendent and Assistant to the Public Works Officer until June 1932, when he was transferred to they as Public Works Officer at the Submarine Base, Coco Solo, Canal Zone, where he remained for three years. A tour of duty as Assistant to the Public Works Officer, Naval Operating Base, San Diego, California, preceded similar duty at the Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, from September 1938 until December 1941, when the United States entered World War II.
He served throughout the war period and until August 1946 in the Navy Department, Washington, D.C. as Director of the Finance and Operating Department of the Bureau of Yards and Dock. He was awarded the Legion of Merit “For exceptionally meritorious conduct… as Assistant Director and Director of the Finance and Operating Department, Bureau of Yards and Docks, from December 1941 to October 1945….” The citation states that “while administering the financial and contracting functions of the Bureau, (he) improved and simplified methods and procedures involved in the distribution of appropriations to field activities… (and) contributed much to the economical and efficient expenditure of government funds.”
Reporting to the Naval Shipyard, New York, New York, he served as Public Works Officer from August 1946 until May 1950 when he returned to the Bureau of Yards and Docks for duty as Inspector General. He had remained in that assignment since his retirement on June 30, 1954.
In addition to the Legion of Merit, Captain Chew has the World War I Victory Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; and the National Defense Service Medal; he received a citation from the Government of Great Britain for assisting in putting out a fire on a British freighter, while on duty in Samoa in 1928.