A Dawn Like Thunder
Tornado Squadron EightA Dawn Like ThunderRobert J. MrazekWorld War II Navy PilotsBattle of Midway

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron (1900-1942)

KIA, Midway, June 4, 1942
Awarded Navy Cross

John Charles Waldron was born in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, on August 21, 1900. Descended on his mother’s side from the Ogala Sioux, he was the youngest of five children, and grew up in Saskatchewan Canada, where his father raised and sold vegetables to the Indians in return for dried fish. According to his daughter, Waldron never ate fish again after leaving home. While attending high school in Rapid City, South Dakota, his mother taught at a local Indian school. Appointed to Annapolis, he earned high marks in executive aptitude, and graduated 479th out of 525 men. After earning his gold pilot’s wings at Pensacola in 1927, he married Adelaide Wentworth, with whom he had two daughters, Nancy and Ann. While remaining on active duty, he studied law in the early 1930’s and was admitted to the California bar, although he never practiced. During the decade before the war, he flew every type of aircraft in the navy arsenal, proving himself to be an exceptional pilot. Considered a natural leader, he was given command of Torpedo Squadron 8 in July, 1941.

Known as “Johnny,” he was at forty-one almost twenty years older than most of the pilots in his squadron. Tall, lean and rugged, Waldron was described as having the face and bearing of a Sioux warrior. With as many eccentricities to his personality as Stonewall Jackson, he rode his men hard right from the start.

At Norfolk, he made them fly four hours in the morning and four more in the afternoon to master formation and divisional flying, always impressing on them how little time there was to accomplish everything they needed to know to survive aerial combat. Unlike many of the other squadron leaders, he had them exercise regularly, convinced that their physical stamina was an important key to their ability to remain calm under fire.

He wasn’t afraid to take on the navy establishment, constantly railing to his superiors about their inadequate equipment, underpowered aircraft, and the failure of the navy to supply enough practice torpedoes. Due to his hectoring, his squadron was chosen as the first to receive delivery of the Navy’s new torpedo plane, the Grumman Avenger. They still hadn’t arrived when Waldron and half the squadron left aboard the Hornet for the Pacific. As their training ended, most of the men in the squadron looked up to him as both a father figure and a perfectionist who could be counted on to protect their lives.

Aboard the Hornet, he continued to drill them relentlessly on what a Japanese carrier was known to do when under attack, and how to maximize the potential of their slow moving torpedo planes when boring in for a strike.

His last words in the ready room after they were ordered to launch their attack at Midway were, “My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don’t, and worst comes to worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. Good luck and God Speed.”

When Commander Stanhope Ring, the overall Hornet Air Group Commander, took the fifty-nine plane group in the wrong direction, Waldron led his squadron off alone to find the Japanese fleet. In the words of Ensign George Gay, he flew straight to the Japanese carriers “like they were at the end of a plumb line.”

Flying without fighter protection, Waldron led his men into the attack, hoping to make hits on the Japanese carriers before escaping to return to the Hornet. According to Ensign George Gay, Waldron was pressing on alone in front of the rest when Japanese fighters raked his plane with machine gun fire, igniting a fuel tank. Waldron opened his canopy and stood up from the cockpit of the flaming fuselage as it crashed into the ocean and exploded.

All fifteen planes in the squadron that flew from the Hornet were shot down. Of the thirty pilots and crewmen, only Ensign Gay survived. Although none of his torpedo planes scored a hit, Waldron and his squadron helped to buy the precious battle time that allowed dive bombers from the Enterprise and Yorktown to attack unhindered by Japanese fighters and sink four Japanese carriers in what became known as the “Miracle at Midway.” None of the other forty-four other planes flying in the Hornet Air Group found the Japanese fleet.


entire site copyright Robert J. Mrazek 2008