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On July 1, 1942, the U.S.S. Wasp, an aircraft carrier holding 71 planes, 2,247 sailors and a journalist, sailed from San Diego to the western Pacific to join the battle against the Japanese. On board was a naval officer named Lt. Cmdr. John Joseph Shea. Two days before he left San Diego, Shea wrote his 5-year-old son a letter.

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Dear Jackie,

This is the first letter I have ever written directly to my little son and I am thrilled to know that you can read it all by yourself. If you miss some of the words, I am sure it will be because I do not write very plainly. Mother will help you in that case I am sure.

I was certainly glad to hear your voice over the long-distance telephone. It sounded as though I were right in the living room with you. You sounded as though you missed your daddy very much. I miss you too, more than anyone will ever know. It is too bad this war could not have been delayed a few more years so that I could grow up again with you and do with you all the things I planned to do when you were old enough to go to school.

I thought how nice it would be for me to come home early in the afternoon and play ball with you, and go mountain-climbing and see the trees, and brooks, and learn all about woodcraft, hunting, fishing, swimming and things like that. I suppose we must be brave and put these things off for a little while.

When you are a little bigger you will know why your daddy is not home so much any more. You know we have a big country and we have ideals as to how people should live and enjoy the riches of it and how each is born with equal rights to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, there are some countries in the world where they don’t have these ideals, where a boy cannot grow up to be what he wants to be with no limits on his opportunities to be a great man, such as a great priest, statesman, doctor, soldier, business man etc.

Because there are people and countries who want to change our nation, its ideals, forms of government and way of life, we must leave our homes and families to fight. Fighting for the defense of our country, ideals, homes and honor is an honor and a duty which your daddy has to do before he can come home to settle down with you and Mother. When it is done, he is coming home to be with you always and forever. So wait just a little while longer. I am afraid it will be more than the two weeks you told me on the phone.

In the meantime, take good care of Mother. Be a good boy and grow up to be a good young man. Study hard when you go to school. Be a leader in everything good in life. Be a good Catholic, and you can’t help being a good American. Play fair always. Strive to win but if you must lose, lose like a gentleman and a good sportsman. Don’t ever be a quitter either in sports or in your business or profession when you grow up. Get all the education you can. Stay close to Mother and follow her advice. Obey her in everything, no matter how you may at times disagree. She knows what is best and will never let you down or lead you away from the right and honorable things in life. If I don’t get back, you will have to be Mother’s protector because you will be the only one she has. You must grow up to take my place as well as your own in her life and heart. Don’t let her brood over me nor waste herself on anyone not worthy of her or you.

Love your grandmother and granddad as long as they live. They, too, will never let you down. Love your aunts and see them as often as you can. Last of all, don’t ever forget your daddy. Pray for him to come back and if it is God’s will that he does not, be the kind of a boy and man your daddy wants you to be.

Thanks for the nice sweater and handkerchiefs and particularly for the note and card. Write me very often and tell me everything.

Kiss Mother for me every night.

Goodbye for now.

With all my love and devotion for Mother and you,

Your daddy

Screen shot 2019 03 13 at 20.23.15Lt. Cmdr. John Joseph Shea’s original “Dear Jackie” letter. Credit From John J. Burns Library, Boston College

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On the afternoon of Sept. 15, the Wasp was in the Coral Sea, escorting a convoy of United States Marines bound for Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, when it was hit by torpedoes fired at close range by a Japanese submarine. Explosions immediately rocked the ship. Many men were killed instantly. The ship’s magazines and fuel stores detonated like bombs. The hangar deck, where most of the planes were stored, was soon entirely ablaze. At the same time, water rushed into the breaches in the ship’s hull, and the Wasp lurched 15 degrees to its starboard side, like a boxer buckling at the knee after a body shot.

The commanding officer of the Wasp, Capt. Forrest P. Sherman, swung the ship around, so that the flames and smoke blew toward the ocean rather than across the deck, but it made no difference. More than 300 feet of his ship, from the bow to the central “island” containing the bridge, was subsumed by an uncontrollable inferno. Within minutes, the Wasp had become a vision of hell.

To read the full article on the New York Times:

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