Frank J. Fletcher

Fletcher aboard his flagship USS Saratoga in September, 1942. Photo in the collection of the US Naval Historical Center.Fletcher

Born: 1885
Years of Service

Born in Iowa, Frank Jack Fletcher entered the US Naval Academy in the class of 1906. Upon graduation, he served two years as an enlisted sailor before commissioning as an Ensign. Fletcher served in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, with several tours aboard battleships, as well as smaller ships. His first command came in 1910, when he took charge of the destroyer USS Dale. While stationed aboard the battleship USS Florida, Fletcher participated in the occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, in 1914. Fletcher was awarded the Medal of Honor for his conduct in making sure refugees were safely evacuated from the city. After the occupation, Fletcher served as an aide to the commander in chief, US Atlantic Fleet, and in the Executive Department of the Naval Academy. He married Martha Richards in 1917, while in this post. During World War I, he commanded the destroyer USS Benham, during which he was awarded the Navy Cross for his prosecution of the war against the German U-boats. Post-War, Fletcher oversaw the fitting out of destroyers on the Pacific coast, and spent three years working in the Bureau of Navigation. After several years in the Asiatic Fleet, Fletcher served at the Washington Navy Yard, and completed his advanced courses at the Navy and Army War Colleges. After several staff positions, Fletcher was given command of the battleship New Mexico from 1936-37, and in 1940 was placed in command of Cruiser Division 6. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fletcher was placed in command of a Task Force being formed to relieve the besieged defenders of Wake Island. Factors outside of his control resulted in the attempt being aborted by the temporary C-in-C, Admiral Pye, but Fletcher would later be criticized for a lack of aggressiveness in the expedition. He was given command of Task Force 17 in January, and proved capable of learning carrier tactics on the fly, under guidance from experienced carrier commanders, such as Admiral Halsey. Fletcher would be put to the test in May, 1942, when he was in command of the US carriers during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first carrier-vs-carrier fight in history. Fletcher would command the US carriers in three of the major battles of 1942, including Midway, and the Eastern Solomons, and was in charge of providing cover during the invasion of Guadalcanal. After the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, Fletcher was sent back to the US for a well-earned break, but he was subsequently passed over for sea commands. Instead, he was tasked with the northern Pacific from November, 1942, through the end of the War. After overseeing the occupation of northern Japan, Fletcher was appointed to the Navy General Board, and remained in that capacity until he retired in 1947. Fletcher did not pursue personal glory post-War, and has been unfairly relegated to the sidelines, overshadowed by his colleagues Halsey and Spruance. He excelled at calculated risk, exposing his forces only when they were likely to give as good as they got, or better, as in the case of Midway. Fletcher died in 1973, in Bethesda, Maryland, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.