John Graham Patterson
John Graham Patterson was a great uncle on my mother’s side. He was affectionately known by most as “Uncle Johnnie.” Johnnie was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1912. A Harvard graduate, he was on his way to a successful career in advertising when America was drawn into the war. Despite being thirty years old and a father, Johnnie answered the call and joined the Navy, receiving an officer’s commission in 1942. He commented to his wife Betty in a letter about his colleagues, “It gives me an odd feeling to think that I am about ten years older than most of them.”
He served the early years of the war as a flight officer at the naval facility in Norfolk, Virginia in 1943-44, when another child was born to him and Betty. In late 1944 he was reassigned to the carrier USS Ticonderoga which was deployed in the Pacific theater out of Pearl Harbor. In late 1944 the Ticonderoga participated in the Philippine campaign and launched raids on Japanese installations, shipping, and airfields in the South China Sea and along the coast of southern China. Her pilots were credited with the sinking of a Japanese cruiser. In November the carrier was on the receiving end of kamikaze attacks off Luzon and had a narrow miss. In January 1945 the Ticonderoga sailed north and launched further raids on Japanese installations on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). There they were attacked again by numerous suicide planes. One plane crashed through the Ticonderoga’s flight deck, igniting some American planes belowdecks and killing several dozen sailors. The fire was eventually put under control, but just then they were attacked by four more kamikaze planes. Three were shot down but a fourth managed to crash into the carrier’s starboard side near the island. A hundred more men were killed, including Johnnie. In all 144 men perished, but the ship was able to return for repairs in Bremerton, Washington and participated in the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. In a letter to his grieving widow a fellow officer on the Ticonderoga wrote of Johnnie, “He had all the traits of a carefree, irresponsible American schoolboy, and yet where the issue was vital, he could get down and fight, and fight alone, if need be, without creating enemies, which is a rare quality indeed in human nature…He was keen, intellectually curious, fervent in his devotion to great causes, a merry companion and a wise counselor.” He was thirty-three years old and left behind a wife, Betty, and two children, Prudy and Jimmy.