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Biography of Rear Admiral Joseph James "Jocko" Clark

"Determined Warrior"

Joseph James Clark was born on November 12, 1893 in a log cabin on a creek in Pryor Indian Territory in the northeast corner of Oklahoma. His father was William A. Clark, a Native American Cherokee, who was one of the first of fifty-four students in 1875 to live and be educated in the Cherokee Indian Orphan Asylum in Salina, Oklahoma. His mother was Mary Poly Ward Clark who later died in childbirth.

Clark’s distinguished naval career began as a midshipman in May of 1913 when he entered the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. While at the Academy he was given the nickname “Jocko.” He graduated in 1917 in the accelerated class of 1918. He was the first Native American to graduate from the Naval Academy. 

On April 2, 1917 U.S. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson asked a joint session of Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. The Senate approved his resolution on April 3, and the House on April 6. It passed both houses by an overwhelming majority, and the presidential declaration of war was quick to follow.

Fresh out of Annapolis and newly commissioned, Ensign Clark was assigned his first combat duty as a deck officer aboard the armored cruiser USS North Carolina (ACR-12) on convoy duty in the Atlantic.

In 1921 Clark was assigned his first command, the destroyer USS Brooks (DD-232).

On March 25, 1925 Clark earned his pilot's wings graduating in Aviation Class No. 21 at Pensacola, Florida. He would become a strong advocate and accomplished specialist in naval air.

In May of 1941 Commander Clark was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) as executive officer. While aboard the Yorktown, on January 2, 1942, he was promoted to captain.

Captain Clark was in line to command one of the new escort carriers being converted from merchant ships. He was given a choice, and chose the USS Suwannee. The Suwannee was commissioned on September 24, 1942 as auxiliary escort carrier ACV-27. Less than a month after commissioning, Clark was underway in the invasion of North Africa.

Admiral Ernest Joseph King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations ordered Clark’s next assignment. He was to command the USS Yorktown (CV-10). The Yorktown (CV-5) had been sunk in the Battle of Midway on June 7, 1942 in 3,000 fathoms of water with her battle flags flying. The Yorktown (CV-10) was commissioned on April 15, 1943 with Clark in command.

Clark joined the 5th Fleet in the Pacific taking the Yorktown into combat on August 31 with fighter and bomber strikes against Marcus Island followed by strikes against Wake Island on October 5-6. In November the Yorktown participated in assaults in the Gilbert Islands at Tarawa, Abemama and Makin. During 1943 she was in Task Force 50. In January of 1944 the Yorktown became part of Task Group 58.1 in Fast Carrier Task Force 58 for the assaults on Majuro and Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. On January 31 Clark was promoted to Rear Admiral. 

On February 10 Captain Ralph E. Jennings replaced Clark as commander of the Yorktown.  After leaving the Yorktown and before departing for Pearl Harbor, he made it clear to his superior officers that he wanted sea duty and combat, and he wanted to continue serving under Vice Admiral Marc Andrew “Pete” Mitscher, Commander Fast Carrier Task Force 58.  Admiral Mitscher sent Clark a message; “I want you back here in Task Force 58 soon.”

Clark was headed for a shore billet, but Admiral King interceded to change Clark's orders, and he returned to 5th Fleet and Fast Carrier Task Force 58.

On March 15, 1944, at the direction of Admiral Chester William Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, Admiral Clark raised his flag in the USS Hornet (CV-12), an Essex class carrier. The Hornet was commissioned on November 29, 1943 with Captain Miles Rutherford Browning in command.  Admiral Mitscher temporarily assigned the Hornet to Task Group 58.2. The Hornet would be Clark’s flagship until he was detached from Sea Duty.

On April 13 Fast Carrier Task Force 58 sailed from Majuro to provide support for General Douglas MacArthur’s planned landing at Hollandia and Aitape on the north coast of New Guniea, launching air strike against Japanese installations in the Caroline Islands.  Admiral Mitscher had organized Task Force 58 into three task groups. Clark was given command of Task Group 58.1, which initially consisted of carriers Hornet, Belleau Wood, Cowpens and  Bataan plus heavy cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers. As carriers and other ships became available, task groups would change, and their numbers expand. 

The next combat assignment for Clark was the assault on Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Marianas. 

On the night of June 14 Task Force 58 was on stand-by duty near the Marianas. Task Groups 58.1 and 58.4 were relieved, and ordered to steam northwest under the tactical command of Clark. They were to launch air strikes on the 15th and 16th against Chichi Jima in the Bonin Islands and Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, both island groups are in the Nanpo Shoto (Shoto is Japanese for Archipelago) that begins at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, and extends slightly southeast for approximately 750 miles. The islands were known staging sites for Japanese warplanes between Japan and Micronesia, and the airfields on the islands posed a threat for the amphibious forces off Saipan.

Bad weather limited air strikes, but carrier aircraft launched from wet and pitching decks accounted for three small freighters, 21 sea planes and 80 warplanes in the two days of strikes. On the 16th weather conditions had worsened, and the Japanese did not send up air patrols. Clark surprised the enemy in the afternoon with a bold strike against the airfield on Iwo Jima, where planes were lined up on the field. Of the total number of planes destroyed in the two days of strikes, 91 were on the ground.

After recovery, the task groups steamed southward on the 16th rendezvousing with Task Force 58 in 5th Fleet on June 18 near Saipan. Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance, Commander 5th Fleet, was preparing to engage the Japanese Mobile Fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. This engagement would become known as the "Battle of the Philippine Sea." The outcome of the battle would effectively destroy Japanese naval air power for the remainder of the war.

The "Battle of the Philippine Sea" began on June 19 with the "Marianas Turkey Shoot." Admiral Ozawa launched a massive air strike against Task Force 58, and in so doing, lost 385 carrier aircraft in one day. Task Group 58.1 claimed 109 of Ozawa's warplanes. Task Force 58's loss was 40 Hellcats, and many of the downed pilots were rescued.  

Ozawa’s Mobile Fleet made a run for it on the 19th, with Fast Carrier Task Force 58 in pursuit. Planes from the task force caught up with Ozawa's retreating fleet at 0630 on the 20th, and those launched by Clark's carriers sunk the aircraft carrier Hiyo. Bombs from task force planes damaged carriers Zuikaku and Junyo. A total of 17 ships were damaged, and 65 Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air, but darkness was approaching, and the returning planes reached Task Force 58 low on fuel and in total blackness. 

Recovery could have been a disaster, but Clark ordered all of his ships to turn on their lights. The USS Hornet displayed a vertical searchlight beam. It was a calculated risk; an invitation to lurking Japanese submarines. Clark immediately notified Admiral Mitscher of his action, and Mitscher signaled his approval by ordering all ships in the task force to turn on their lights. It was one of the war’s great moments. The black night sky emblazed by ship's lights that stretched for miles as returning planes with sufficient fuel made safer deck landings, and those flying on fumes made water landings near destroyers.

After recovery, Task Force 58 continued to pursue the Mobile Fleet through the night of the 20th, and into the evening of the 21st without coming close enough to launch a second strike. On the evening of the 21st Admiral Spruance ordered Task Force 58 to abandon pursuit. By then the Mobile Fleet was within 300 miles of Okinawa. Mitscher ordered his task force to changed course, and steam toward the prearranged rendezvous with a task group of fleet tankers for refueling.

Task Force 58 rendezvoused with the fleet tankers at noon on the 22nd. Admiral Mitscher ordered three of his task groups, including Task Group 58.1, to Eniwetok for a brief rest. Clark sent Mitscher the following dispatch, “advised CTF 58 by dispatch that unless otherwise directed this Group would strike Iwo Jima ... morning of 24 June while en route to Eniwetok.”

Admiral Clark later wrote, “Throughout the Saipan operation our Japanese language unit had been following Japanese radio traffic and deciphering the messages with our trusty code book captured off Hollandia. From this source and from American submarines we learned that the enemy was staging large numbers of planes back into Chichi and Iwo Jima. I regarded those islands as my special property, since my task group had initially pounded them on 15 and 16 June, so I considered the possibility of stopping this renewed air threat from the north.”

Admiral Mitscher enthusiastically approved Clark’s dispatch, and thereafter referred to this diversion as “Operation Jocko.”

On June 24 Task Group 58.1 arrived at the launch site, 235 miles southwest of Iwo Jima. And at 0600, in rough weather, Clark's carriers launched a fighter sweep of 51 Hellcats. A Japanese patrol plane spotted the task group, and alerted Admiral Sadaichi Matsunaga, Commander of the 27th Air Flotilla, on Iwo. Admiral Sadaichi unleashed all of his fighters and a few bombers in two strikes against Clark's carriers. But when recovery began at 1830, 66 of Sadaichi's warplanes had been destroyed in the air against the loss of six Hellcats. Clark set course for Eniwetok.

Japan had continued to use the airfields on Chichi and Iwo Jima as staging areas against the invasion of the Marianas, and on June 24, 122 planes were on the islands. Although carrier planes did not get a chance to strafe and bomb the airfields, slightly over one-half of the build up from the mainland was destroyed.

Admiral Clark with the assistance of Rear Admiral Ralph E. Davison, Commander Task Group 58.2, would celebrate the 4th of July with an old adversary. It would be Clark's third raid on Chichi and Iwo Jima. The task groups reached their launch sites at noon on the 3rd, and by the afternoon, they were launching long-range fighter sweeps.

At 0400, before dawn on the 4th of July, four night fighters were launched from a flight deck and disappeared into the blackness of the predawn sky. This was the wake-up call for the Japanese on Chichi Jima. At dawn Hellcats from the task groups were over the islands as Japanese planes were warming up for takeoff on the airfields below, and the Hellcats dove in for the kill. Twenty-four enemy planes were destroyed on the ground, and 59 in the air. Planes from the task groups bombed and strafed installations and shipping at Chichi and Haha Jima losing 11 planes. 

Shortly before noon on the 4th, Clark detached Rear Admiral Laurance Toombs DuBose’s light cruisers. They joined Rear Admiral L. Hewlett Thebaud’s heavy cruisers, from Task Group 58.2. Their mission was to bombard Iwo Jima in the afternoon concluding the 4th of July celebrations. The evil little island received a terrible pounding, and the task groups withdrew to the south.

The full knowledge of the success of the third strike against Iwo and Chichi Jima was not known until post-war studies revealed that Japan recalled the fifty-four surviving planes from Chichi and Iwo Jima.

Admiral Clark’s interest/obsession with the "Jimas" had become so pronounced that naval pilots had printed certificates of membership in the “Jocko Jima Development Corporation.” A certificate was given to every participant. 

The fourth and final raid on the "Jimas" by Clark's task group took place on August 4 and 5. Raids were conducted against Iwo Jima and island in the southern Bonins, and it was the most profitable of the four raids. Planes from Task Group 58.1 sighted a convoy off Muko Jima, and sank, with help from task group destroyers, the Japanese destroyer Matsu, two destroyer escorts, two ramped beaching craft and five freighters totaling over 20,000 tons. They also destroyed 23 enemy planes on the ground and three in the air. The task group lost six aircraft. And the cruisers from the task group bombarded Iwo and Chichi Jima.

In August of 1944 the Pacific Fleet rotated commanders and numerical designations, which was roughly a quarterly occurrence. The 5th Fleet commanded by  Admiral Spruance was turned over to Admiral William Frederick “Bull” Halsey, Jr. and became the 3rd Fleet. Task Force 58 commanded by Vice Admiral Mitscher was turned over to Vice Admiral John Sidney McCain and became Task Force 38. On January 26, 1945, at Ulithi, it would revert back to the 5th Fleet and Task Force 58. The changing of commanders and numerical designations was unique to the Pacific Fleet, and gave rotating commanders the time to plan for their next combat quarter. The apparent confusion created by the rotation had an unexpected impact on the Japanese. Some believed they were alternately fighting two Fleets. 

On February 10, 1945 Fast Carrier Task Force 58 commanded by Admiral Mitscher sorted from Ulithi Atoll steaming northward toward Japan. At dawn on Friday, February 16, the task force arrived at the launch site, approximately 125 miles southeast of Tokyo and 60 miles off the coast of Honshu. The raids against the Japanese mainland would be the first since the Halsey-Doolittle raid on April 18, 1942. Then, Captain Marc Andrew “Pete” Mitscher commanded the USS Hornet, and Lt. Colonel James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle commanded a squadron of 16 Army B-25 bombers that were launched from the flight deck of the Hornet in a surprise raid on Tokyo and four other Japanese cities.

The raids on the Japanese mainland on February 16 and 17 were substantial, but they were not spectacular. Carrier aircraft struck the Nakajima airframe assembly plant forty-miles from Tokyo, and the Tachikawa and Musashi aircraft engine plants outside of Tokyo. They sank a number of ships and small craft in Tokyo Bay. They destroyed 341 Japanese planes in the air, and 190 on the ground. But foul weather was an adversary that limited the effectiveness and eventually caused the cancellation of additional strikes at 1115 on Saturday the 17th. Eighty-eight carrier planes were lost, many the victim of foul weather. 

Returning aircraft were recovered, and Mitscher ordered Task Force 58 to withdraw southward toward Iwo Jima. They were scheduled to provide close-in support for the assault, and act as a shield against Japanese air attacks.  

Support for the assault on Iwo Jima would mark the fifth trip to the "Jimas" by Clark and Task Group 58.1. Admiral Clark later wrote, “Now at last American forces were going to take possession of my 'Jocko Jima Development Corporation' islands. I was pleased to be on hand for the occasion.”

On Monday morning, February 19, 1945, Task Group 58.1 launched a deck-load strike against  Chichi Jima.

On February 20-23, Task Group 58.1 launched six deck-load strikes in close support of the Marines on Iwo Jima, and alternately striking Chichi and Haha Jima to prevent staging of aircraft from the mainland.

On February 23 Task Force 58 steamed from the area around Iwo Jima northward to a launch site south of Honshu. Admiral Mitscher's plan was to strike the Tokyo area on the 25th and the Nagoya area on the 26th. But weather conditions failed to cooperate causing poor visibility, rough seas and pitching carrier decks that added greater risks to launch and recovery for airmen and aircraft. The raid on Tokyo was disappointing, and the raid on Nagoyo was cancelled. Admiral Mitscher turned his task force southward toward Ulithi for rest and replenishment. 

On March 14 Task Force 58 steamed northward from Ulithi toward Kyushu to begin the Okinawa campaign. Initially, they would target the 45 airfields on Kyushu, from which Japan could launch air strikes against the assault on Okinawa scheduled for April 1. The task force would also target the big naval bases at Kobe and Kure on the home island of Honshu. 

The two days of strike by Task Force 58 that began on the 18th and ended on the 19th, destroyed 387 Japanese planes, most on the ground, and damaged 17 Japanese warships including the battleship Yamato and four carriers.

During the Okinawa campaign, the most terrifying weapon that Japan unleashed against the Navy was the “Kamikaze.” The conventional kamikaze unit consisted of aircraft flown by Japanese pilots on one-way suicide missions. The name was derived from 15th century Japanese folklore: “Legend is that the emperor of China attempted to invade Japan, but a storm broke up his ships and saved Japan. The elated Japanese, believing this storm to be of divine origin, called it ‘Kamikaze,’ which meant ‘Heavenly Wind’ or ‘Divine Wind.’”

On Sunday night, June 10, 1945, the Okinawa campaign ended for Admiral Clark and Task Group 58.1. Clark turned his group southward  toward the new fleet base at Leyte Gulf. The Japanese Navy was destroyed. The Pacific Fleet was in command of the sea, and Japan was being subjected to a merciless air-sea blockade. The invasion of Kyushu was scheduled for the autumn, but Admiral Clark along with other naval and military leaders believed the war with Japan would soon end. 

On June 16 Task Group 58.1 reached Leyte, and anchored in San Pedro Bay. Clark hauled down his flag in Hornet, and turned over command of Task Group 38.1 to Rear Admiral Tommy L. Sprague. On May 28 the 5th Fleet had reverted to the 3rd Fleet, Task Force 58 to Task Force 38 and Task Group 58.1 to Task Group 38.1, which was the date Admirals Spruance and Mitscher turned over their commands to Admirals Halsey and McCain.

Admiral Clark was detached from sea duty on June 16, and assigned to a shore billet at Corpus Christi, Texas. He would relieve Rear Admiral Charlie Mason as Chief of Naval Air Intermediate Training. On Tuesday, July 3, 1945, Admiral Clark landed at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station to take command. Later, the Primary Training Command would be combined with the Intermediate Training Command, and Clark's title would change to Chief of Naval Air Basic Training.

Before dawn on July 16, 1945 the first atomic bomb set atop a tall steel tower in a remote area of the Jornado del Muerto desert within the confines of the Alamogordo Air Base, and 120-miles southwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. At 0530 a flash lit up the mountain peaks ten-miles away followed by the roar of the explosion that was followed by tornado like bursts of wind. The light from the fire ball, one-mile in diameter, was visible 400-miles away. The multi-colored mushroom cloud rose into the stratosphere to a height of 40,000 feet. The intense heat from the blast vaporized the steel tower, and left a crater 440 yards in diameter. The crater's floor and desert surface, 800 yard around the blast site, was glass formed by the fusion of sand. The explosion produced a force equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT. The device detonated was a plutonium type bomb. 

Hours before dawn on Monday, August 6, 1945, at 0245 a B-29, the Enola Gay, lifted off the tarmac of North Field on Tinian in the Marianas. Over Iwo Jima, the pilot, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., initiated a slow climb to 30,000 feet. Weather reconnaissance planes issued an all clear over Hiroshima. At 0915, Japanese time, the bombardier, Major Thomas W. Ferebee, toggled one bomb out over the target. The Enola Gay was flying at an altitude of 31,600 feet and speed of 377.5 knots. The bomb nicknamed “Little Boy,” the first tactical atomic bomb, was in free-fall and would airburst at 1,900 feet to achieve maximum destruction. It was a uranium type bomb. Below the blast, at ground zero, stood a parade ground where the Second Army was engaged in morning calisthenics. The explosion produced a force equivalent to more than 15,000 tons of TNT. The flash from the explosion was seen 170-miles away by a reconnaissance plane. The ominous mushroom cloud reached into the stratosphere to a height of 40,000 feet. Not a single Japanese aircraft rose to challenge the Enola Gay, and she arrived safely in the Marianas landing on North Field on Tinian at 1458.

On Thursday, August 9, 1945, at 1201 Japanese time, a second tactical atomic bomb nicknamed “Fat Man” was toggled out over Nagasaki, and airburst at 1,650 feet. The explosion produced a force equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT. It was a plutonium type bomb.

On August 14 Japan surrendered unconditionally. 

On Sunday, September 2, Japan officially signed a surrender agreement aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

On September 22 the 5th Marine Division arrived in transports off the northwestern  coast of Kyushu. They had been scheduled to assault Kyushu in November. They would now occupy the southern most island of Japan.

On May 30, 1946, in a Memorial Day Service to honor Ennis area war dead, Rear Admiral Joseph James "Jocko" Clark presented the Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded to First Lieutenant Jack Lummus, to his mother, Mrs. Laura Francis Lummus, in the name of the Congress of the United States. Lieutenant Lummus died in the "Battle for Iwo Jima" on March 8, 1945.  

Admiral Clark was assigned other shore billets until November of 1948 when he was assigned sea duty. He hoisted his flag in the USS Philippine Sea, and took command of Carrier Division Four, designated Task Force 87. His command included carriers Philippine Sea and Midway. He was one of three rotating commanders. Clark's command was part of the 6th Fleet operating as the Atlantic Fleet in the Mediterranean. He would spend four-months with 6th Fleet, and eight-months with 2nd Fleet operating out of Norfolk.

On June 25, 1950 the North Koreans attacked southward across the 38th parallel.

On Tuesday, June 27, President Harry S. Truman, without asking Congress to declare war, ordered American forces to come to the aid of South Korea as part of the U.N. “Police Action.” Admiral Clark flew to Washington to see Admiral Forrest Sherman, Chief of Naval Operations, to request combat duty. He was assigned to a shore billet to wait for a combat assignment.

In 1951 Clark flew to Pearl Harbor to report to Admiral Arthur Radford, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet. Radford assigned Clark as one of the rotating commanders of Fast Carrier Task Force 77. On October 3, 1951 Clark hoisted his flag in the USS Bonhomme Richard, and on the 7th relieved Rear Admiral Jack Perry as Commander Task Force 77. 

On March 7, 1952 Clark was promoted to Vice Admiral, and assigned Commander 1st Fleet. He relieved Vice Admiral A. D. "Rip" Struble on March 25, flying his flag in Bonhomme Richard. First Fleet was the training fleet for crews and ships preparing for combat duty with the 7th Fleet.

On May 20 Clark relieved Vice Admiral Bob Briscoe as Commander 7th Fleet. The 7th Fleet consisted of 225 warships and 70,000 men from twenty-one navies of the United Nations. The change in command occurred aboard the battleship USS Iowa at Yokosuka, Japan.

On July 24, 1953 Admiral Clark received an Army Commendation Ribbon presented by  General Maxwell Taylor for assistance to the Eight Army in initiating staff planning for a new stratagem for fast carrier air support for ground troops. The stratagem was named “Cherokee Strikes” in honor of Admiral Clark’s Indian heritage.

On July 27, 1953 an armistice was concluded. The front line had been stabilized along the 38th parallel, and was accepted as the de facto boundary between North and South Korea. After the U.S. elections in November 1952, President Dwight David Eisenhower secretly informed the North Koreans and Chinese that the U.S. was prepared to use nuclear weapons, and would carry the war into China if a peace agreement was not reached.

On December 1, 1953 Admiral Clark retired. After reading his last orders, he turned over Command of the 7th Fleet to Vice Admiral A. M. “Mel” Pride. The change of command occurred on the deck of the battleship USS Wisconsin in Tokyo Bay. Clark hauled down his flag thus ending a long and colorful career.

On the basis of combat awards, Vice Admiral Clark retired a four-star admiral. 

Admiral Mick Carney, Chief of Naval Operations, sent Admiral Clark a farewell message, “Your fearless and aggressive leadership in battle, and your unswerving adherence to the objective of victory, have engendered the confidence of your comrades in arms and will serve as an inspiration to future generation of Navy men.” He concluded, “Well done, Repeat, well done.”  

Several years into retirement J. J. Clark was made honorary chief of both the Cherokee and Sioux Nations. In 1969 the National Aeronautic Association honored him with the Elder Statesman of Aviation Award.

On Tuesday, July 13, 1971, at Naval Hospital in St. Albans, New York, Admiral Joseph James “Jocko” Clark, USN (Ret) died at the age of 77 after a long illness. He was survived by his widow, the former Olga Choubaroff; two daughters, Mrs. Mary Louise Wampole and Mrs. Carol Patton, from the marriage to the former Mary Catherine Wilson; two brothers, four sisters and three grandchildren.

Admiral Clark was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on July 15 following a 3:00 p.m. funeral service in the chapel at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, spoke of his departed shipmate and friend, “His is a quality not to be forgotten or lost as American youth today takes up the good fight where we left off.”

A guided missile frigate, the second of the Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates, was commissioned the USS Clark (FFG-11), and delivered to the U.S. Navy on May 9, 1980.

The motto of the USS Clark “DETERMINED WARRIOR.” 

Presenting a Medal of Honor   Admiral "Jocko" Clark and Bob Hope   "Wings Over Honolulu"

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