1st Lieutenant John M. Mendinhall, II (1921–1945)

John M. Mendinhall, II (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Born in Pennsylvania, moved to Delaware as a childStudent
BranchesService Numbers
U.S. Naval Reserve, U.S. Marine Corps ReserveU.S. Naval Reserve enlisted 4042625 / U.S. Marine Corps Reserve officer 026617
TheaterUnit
PacificMarine Fighting Squadron 441 (VMF-441), Marine Aircraft Group 31
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with six gold starsMarshall Islands, Okinawa
Military Occupational Specialty
1055 (pilot, VMF – single engine)
Mendinhall’s 1939 Wilmington Friends School yearbook entry (Courtesy of Terry Maguire/Wilmington Friends School)

Early Life & Family

John Marshall Mendinhall, II was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania on April 23, 1921.  He was the son of Edward Mendinhall (an engineer and later executive at a number of companies, 1895–1984) and Dorothy Mendinhall (née Bleezarde, 1898–1988).  Mendinhall was named after his grandfather John Marshall Mendinhall (1861–1938), the lieutenant governor of Delaware during 1909–1913.  He had a younger sister, Dorothea. 

By the time the 1930 census was recorded, the family had moved to 1606 Rodney Street in Wilmington, Delaware.  The Mendinhalls were a Quaker family.  Mendinhall and his sister attended the Friends School in Wilmington.  Mendinhall graduated in 1939.  His yearbook entry stated:

John Mendinhall, popular with the whole school, besides being one of the most active members of the senior class, a player on all teams, and the lead of “Seventeen,” was president of the Whittier Literary Society.  John has made himself heard by actively taking part in meetings and by singing in the Glee Club at different times.  We all know that John has great things ahead of him; perhaps he may even win the “Darby” on his valiant steed, Cappy.

Anne Jessup (Courtesy of Michael Edgar)

Mendinhall was close to a classmate, Anne “Nancy” Jessup (later Anne Jessup Edgar Wells, 1923–2019).  Her son, Michael Edgar recalled that “My mother and Lt. Mendinhall were high school sweethearts from Friends School and she referred to him as her ‘beau’.  A photograph of him in uniform was hung somewhere in our house.”  Her obituary also stated: “Nancy graduated from Wilmington Friends School in 1941. There she fell in love with John Mendinhall, who shared her passion for horses, tennis, and flying.”  One memento she kept was a silver cup engraved with the words “Lewis Fell Trophy won by Nancy Jessup & John Mendinhall”, presumably earned playing tennis.

The April 5, 1940 census showed the Mendinhall family living at Chicken Alley in Rockland.  Chicken Alley refers to a set of rowhomes attached to the Lower Louviers mansion (located across Brandywine Creek from the Hagley Museum). 

Mendinhall attended at least one year at Guilford College in North Carolina.  Guilford, like his high school, was a Quaker school.  It is unclear where he spent his sophomore year, but by time he registered for the draft on February 16, 1942 during his junior year, Mendinhall was a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.   At the time, he was described as standing six feet tall and weighing 180 lbs., with blond hair and blue eyes.  A July 14, 1944 article in Journal-Every Evening stated that while in college, Mendinhall played football, basketball, and baseball and competed in track.


Military Training & Stateside Service

Despite the pacifist teachings of his Quaker upbringing, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mendinhall decided to join the military.  During his junior year of college, Mendinhall volunteered for the U.S. Navy’s V-5 (Naval Aviation Cadet) program.  A July 15, 1942 article in Journal-Every Evening stated that Mendinhall was already a licensed pilot before he joined the service.

Mendinhall, probably during his training (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

On April 23, 1942, Mendinhall enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in New York City.  Appointed a seaman 2nd class, he was on inactive duty until he began Pre-Flight School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on July 9, 1942.  He was appointed to the rating of aviation cadet on August 4, 1942, continuing his training at the U.S. Naval Air Training Center Corpus Christi, Texas. 

Mendinhall was honorably discharged from the U.S. Naval Reserve on July 16, 1943, a formality before he was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at the Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi on July 17, 1943.  He reported to the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida on July 23, 1943, where he continued training until September 21.

Beginning on October 7, 1943, Lieutenant Mendinhall was stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina and assigned to Headquarters Squadron 61, Marine Air Group 61, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.  He attended the Naval Air Navigation School in Hollywood, Florida from December 14, 1943 through January 24, 1944.  Upon his return to Cherry Point on January 25, 1944, he was assigned to Headquarters Squadron 3.  He remained at Cherry Point after transfers to Air Regulating Squadron 9 on March 7, 1944 and Marine Fighting Squadron 924 on May 4, 1944. 

Mendinhall was promoted to 1st lieutenant on June 1, 1944 with an effective date of rank of May 31, 1944.  Later that summer, on August 10, 1944, his squadron was re-designated VMF-924, Marine Aircraft Group 92, 9th Marine Air Wing, and moved to Parris Island, South Carolina.

On October 10, 1944, Lieutenant Mendinhall transferred to Headquarters Squadron 92 of Marine Air Group 92 at New Bern, North Carolina.  After a temporary assignment at Atlanta, Georgia from October 18–21, 1944 shuttling aircraft out of the path of a hurricane, Mendinhall returned to Parris Island until November 16, 1944, when he was dispatched to the Marine Corps Air Depot Miramar, near San Diego, California.  Lieutenant Mendinhall apparently had two weeks of leave before reporting for duty on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, Anne Jessup had graduated from the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation in Florida and enlisted in the Navy’s women’s auxiliary, known as the W.A.V.E.S.  She reported for boot camp at the Naval Training Station, Bronx, New York on November 16, 1944.  In a transcript of a 1988 oral history interview, she recalled that while in boot camp:

I do remember that the young man that I was engaged to at the time, John Mendinhall from Wilmington, was in the Marine air corps [sic], and he called me up one day and said he was being shipped out, and could I please meet him in New York for some particular football game.  This would be the last time I would see him, and I was terribly eager to go, so I went to one of the officers, who happened to be [the famous tennis player and friend of the family] Helen Jacobs. […] And unfortunately, even with her pull, I wasn’t able to arrange it.


Lieutenant Mendinhall portrait (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

Combat in the Pacific Theater

1st Lieutenant Mendinhall arrived in Miramar, California on December 1, 1944.  Later that month, on December 26, 1944, he was assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 441 (VMF-441), Marine Aircraft Group 31, 4th Marine Air Wing.  At the time, Marine Aircraft Group 31 was stationed at Roi-Namur island in the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands.  Mendinhall shipped out from San Diego that same day aboard the attack transport U.S.S. Kittson (APA-123).  The ship arrived in Majuro, Marshall Islands on January 12, 1945.  Mendinhall arrived on Roi-Namur a few days later.  In addition to his flight duties, Mendinhall served as his unit’s recreation officer. 

Equipped with the Vought F4U Corsair, VMF-441 was operating against bypassed Japanese outposts in the Marshall Islands.  Lieutenant Mendinhall’s first mission was against Taroa in the Maloelap Atoll on February 28, 1945. 

On March 8, 1945, Lieutenant Mendinhall departed Roi-Namur aboard U.S.S. LST-781 (one of ten vessels transporting Marine Aircraft Group 31 to Okinawa).  While in transit, Marine Aircraft Group 31 was transferred to the 2nd Marine Air Wing effective March 11, 1945.  Following stops at Eniwetok (March 10–19) and Saipan (March 24–26), LST-781 continued to the Ryukyu Islands.

On March 31, 1945, Lieutenant Mendinhall was pensive about the upcoming battle as he wrote a letter that was printed in the May 1945 Friends School Alumni Bulletin:

We are on our way to a great conflict which, at present, you are hearing on your radio.  The outcome of course we don’t know yet and this won’t be relatively short battles such as Kwajelien, Saipan, or Iwo Jima—it will be a decisive, hard fought, continuous battle for a number of months.

In another letter after arriving at Okinawa, Mendinhall wrote:

Here we are on a moonlit night standing just offshore aboard ship with naval bombardment shattering the air every few seconds.  It is peaceful aboard ship….yet not one thousand yards away on shore there are numerous ships emptying their cargoes of men and materiel, and perhaps another two miles inland the Marines are battling fiercely […] We heard over the radio from the States, some 8,000 miles away that three air strips have been secured.  We are glad to hear this of course, but do you know we are only eight miles away from them at most yet we had to hear it from the U.S.?

Marine F4U firing rockets on a ground attack mission on Okinawa (Official U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lieutenant David Duncan via Naval History and Heritage Command)

VMF-441 went ashore at Okinawa on April 4, 1945, the fourth day of the invasion.  Flying out of a captured Japanese airfield referred to as Yontan Field, VMF-441’s missions were for the most part a mixture of combat air patrols, ground attack, and radar picket patrols. 

F4U Corsairs at Yontan Field c. April 1945 (Marine Aircraft Group Thirty One’s April 1945 war diary, National Archives via Fold3)

During the latter type of mission, the Marine aviators defended the vulnerable radar picket ships, typically destroyers, with lighter vessels in support.  These ships were stationed well offshore from Okinawa and provided early warning of inbound Japanese aircraft, but frequently came under attack themselves.  The enemy launched conventional air raids as well as suicide attacks (the infamous kamikazes) from the Kyushu and Formosa (Taiwan).  On April 16, 1944, VMF-441 responded when the U.S.S. Laffey (DD-724) came under attack by a large group of Japanese aircraft, sustaining multiple bomb and kamikaze hits.  The squadron claimed 15½ enemy aircraft in the ensuing aerial engagement.

Detail from a photograph of a Marine F4U Corsair firing a salvo of rockets at a ground target on Okinawa (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo, National Archives)

In a May 1, 1945 letter quoted in Alumni Bulletin, Lieutenant Mendinhall recounted an uneventful day flying combat air patrol missions, writing that he

rose at 3:30, took off at 4:45, flew C. A. P., came down at 8:45, ate, went up again at 10:30, and was down at 2:15—in other words, I had eight hours of flying time in before 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Lieutenant Mendinhall was credited with shooting down a Kawasaki Ki-61 (known to the Allies as the “Tony”) while flying an F4U-1C during a combat air patrol sortie on May 18, 1945.  During the engagement, five Marine pilots claimed a total of four Japanese planes shot down and one probably shot down without loss to the Americans.  The citation for a gold star (in lieu of a seventh Air Medal) awarded to Lieutenant Mendinhall stated in part:

Vectored to intercept a force of hostile planes proceeding against friendly patrol craft operating in the area, First Lieutenant Mendinhall launched his attack immediately upon contact and, firing his deadly bursts of 20-mm. ammunition into the right wing, oil cooler and fuel tank of one of the five attacking enemy, blasted him into the sea in flames.  By his expert airmanship, aggressive determination and cool courage in the face of grave danger, First Lieutenant Mendinhall contributed to the success of this perilous mission, and his zealous devotion to duty throughout reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

1st Lieutenant Mendinhall sitting in the cockpit of his F4U Corsair in a photo taken shortly after he shot down a Japanese fighter, denoted by the small flag (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo, courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

The Marine aviators faced danger on the ground as well.  Yontan was subjected to air raids from the very beginning and, in a daring attack the night of May 24, 1945, the Japanese attempted to land a group of Ki-21 (“Sally”) bombers loaded with elite Giretsu paratroopers on the field.  Only one plane landed intact; the paratroopers attacked the tower, aircraft, and fuel dumps.  The Americans suffered two dead and 17 wounded before the Japanese were killed or driven off.

A long exposure photograph capturing antiaircraft fire during a Japanese air raid against Yontan Field on April 16, 1945, with Marine Aircraft Group 31 Corsairs in the foreground (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo via Naval History and Heritage Command)

Mendinhall flew at least 31 combat missions during his career and likely more (see Notes section).  The last was a radar picket patrol to the area east of Okinawa on May 31, 1945.  According to Mendinhall’s military history file, he was “killed in action as the result of a plane crash at Sea approximately 40 miles off Point Bolo, Okinawa.” 

The VMF-441 war diary for May 1945 stated that

Fifteen radar picket patrol sorites were flown from 1430 to 1830 (ITEM [local time]), totaling 43.8 hours, with negative results.  At approximately 1530 (ITEM), two F4U-1C’s (bureau Nos. 82561 and 82263), were destroyed as a result of a mid-air collision while patrolling over Radar Picket Post #5.  No survivors were observed in the area and the pilots, First Lt. John M. Mendinhall II, (026617), and First Lt. Bonneville Smith (029565), are carried on the records as ‘Killed in action as the result of plane crash at sea.’  The cause of the accident is believed to be adverse weather conditions.

Similarly, the Marine Aircraft Group Thirty One Daily Intelligence Summary for May 31, 1945 stated that the two aircraft “locked wings and crashed into the sea in flames.  Search for survivors proved negative.”

Lieutenant Mendinhall remains on a list of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency list of World War II servicemembers whose bodies were not recovered.

Beginning in 1946 and continuing to the present day, the Friends School has bestowed upon a graduating senior the John Marshall Mendinhall II Memorial Award.  A June 12, 1946 Journal-Every Evening article announcing the first award recipient stated:

Announcement was made that Richard Thomas Heald of the graduating class had been awarded the John Marshall Mendinhall Memorial Award, given by the class of 1939 in memory of their classmate, Lieutenant Mendinhall, a Marine flier who was killed in action in the Pacific.

A plaque has been placed in the school hall on which the winner’s names will be inscribed and each winner will receive a medal.  The award is made to the member of the graduating class who has done the most for the school.

Over the years, Lieutenant Mendinhall’s parents and sister frequently attended the award ceremonies.

Mendinhall’s sister Dorothea (seated third from the left) with 16 Mendinhall Award winners in a June 1, 1997 photo taken at Greenville Country Club (Courtesy of Terry Maguire/Wilmington Friends School)

Awards

Lieutenant Mendinhall earned the following medals, all awarded posthumously. 

AwardTime Period
Air MedalFebruary 28–April 12, 1945
Gold Star (in lieu of second Air Medal)April 18–22, 1945
Gold Star (in lieu of third Air Medal) April 23–29, 1945
Distinguished Flying CrossApril 30–May 4, 1945
Gold Star (in lieu of fourth Air Medal) May 5–9, 1945
Gold Star (in lieu of fifth Air Medal) May 9–13, 1945
Gold Star (in lieu of sixth Air Medal) May 14–17, 1945
Gold Star (in lieu of seventh Air Medal) May 18, 1945

Documents

Click to any document to view a larger copy. All are courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives.


Notes

1930 Address

1606 Rodney Street in Wilmington is now referred to as 1606 North Rodney Street.

Draft

Mendinhall registered for the draft in Middletown, Connecticut, though he gave his permanent residence as Rural Delivery No. 2 in Wilmington, Delaware.

VMF-441 at Roi-Namur

VMF-441’s muster rolls state that Mendinhall joined the unit on January 16, 1945, while the history compiled by Major Green stated that Lieutenant Mendinhall arrived at Roi-Namur on January 20.

Oddly enough, an article on Pacific Wrecks stated that the survivors of the Japanese garrison on Taroa had been evacuated on February 5, 1944, about a year prior to the February 28, 1945 raid.  It is unclear if Mendinhall flew any additional missions from Roi-Namur.  If he did, the number was no more than three.

Item Time Zone

Military time zones are identified with letters.  Item Time Zone is the same as Japan Standard Time (also known as Tokyo Standard Time), nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (Zulu).  Due to a change in phonetic alphabets, what was Item Time Zone is now known as India Time Zone.

Radar Picket Post No. 5

Although Point Bolo is on the west side of Okinawa, all radar picket posts were identified in relation to it.  Contemporary report gave the coordinates for Radar Picket Post No. 5 as 26° 25′ North, 128° 30.2′ East, 43 miles almost due east of Point Bolo. That body of water would be considered either the Pacific Ocean or the Philippine Sea depending on the map. 

Number of Missions

Though quite comprehensive about Lieutenant Mendinhall’s movements, Major Green’s history only listed six missions (February 28, 1945 and May 3, 5, 13, 17, and 31, 1945). 

His medal citations are somewhat more detailed, but not always clear.  He was listed as flying five missions from February 28–April 12, 1945; five more during April 18–22, 1945; five more April 23–29, 1945.  From there, the story becomes somewhat confusing.  Mendinhall’s Distinguished Flying Cross citation suggests he flew 20 missions during April 30–May 4, 1945.  Based on the pattern of previous and subsequent citations, it would seem more likely that he flew five missions, for a career total of 20.  His next citations listed five more missions during May 5–9, 1945, which would bring his total to 25.  However, the next citation, covering May 9–13, 1945, would seem to contradict that, stating that Mendinhall took “part in five strikes and flights to complete twenty-five missions” rather than 30.  (My best guess is that the citation was in error and 30 was correct.)

Mendinhall was credited with five missions from May 14–17, 1945 (bringing his total to 25 or 30 missions).  His last citation was for a single mission on May 18, 1945, in which he shot down an enemy plane.  If the May 9–13 citation is accurate, Mendinhall’s last mission on May 31, 1945 was at least his 27th; if it was in error, it was at least his 32nd.  A final piece of evidence to consider is the caption of an undated U.S. Marine Corps photo taken after Mendinhall shot down the Japanese fighter on May 18, 1945, which stated in part: “Lt. Mendinhall has already completed 30 combat missions in this area.”

Mendinhall’s activities between May 18–31 are unclear.  Potentially, he could have gotten a brief respite from flying or simply flown fewer than five additional missions (based on the pattern of an Air Medal or gold star at that rate).  Taking all evidence into account, it would seem that Lieutenant Mendinhall probably flew between 32 and 35 combat missions.

Back text for the photo of Lieutenant Mendinhall sitting in the cockpit of his F4U. Note that he actually left school to begin his training in 1942, not July 1943, which was when he was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

Status

Lieutenant Mendinhall is on a list of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency list of World War II servicemembers whose bodies were not recovered.  As of June 6, 2021, his name appears on the list of personnel from Indiana rather than Delaware.  Apparently, the American Battle Monuments Commission data was affected by the same error.  As a result, his entry at the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii also states that he was from Indiana.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Anne Jessup Edgar Wells’s son Michael Edgar and Terry Maguire (Wilmington Friends School archivist) for providing valuable assistance in preparing this piece.  Thanks also go to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of several photographs accompanying this article.


Bibliography

“Anne Jessup Edgar Wells.” The News Journal, November 17, 2019.  Pg. 26A.  https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78230990/anne-jessup-edgar-wells/

“Battle Experience: Radar Pickets and Methods of Combating Suicide Attacks off Okinawa March–May 1945.”  United States Fleet Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, July 20, 1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/296599523

Edgar, Anne Jessup.  “Colonial Dames Oral History Interview.”  Conducted by Dorothy Grotz, Srarah Lynch, and Barbara Board, January 29, 1988.  Transcript courtesy of Michael Edgar.

Edgar, Michael.  Email correspondence on May 25, 2021.

“Friends School Graduates 33.”  Journal-Every Evening, June 12, 1946.  Pg. 6. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78230250/mendinhall-friends-school-award/

 “J.M. Mendinhall Killed In Action.”  Wilmington Morning News, June 7, 1945.  Pg. 9. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78231600/mendinhall-killed/

The Slipstream Mark IV Edition.  U.S. Naval Air Training Center Corpus Christi, Texas, 1944. https://www.fold3.com/image/303184391

“Marine Pilot Promoted.”  Journal-Every Evening, July 14, 1944.  Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78231455/mendinhall-promoted/

Mendinhall, Edward.  John Marshall Mendinhall Individual Military Service Record, circa 1946.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.  https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/19980

Green, G. T.  “Military History of the Late First Lieutenant John Marshall Mendinhall, II, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.”  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/19991

“Lieutenant John M. Mendinhall, III, Reports from Okinawa.”  Alumni Bulletin, May 1945.  Courtesy of Terry Maguire.

The Quaker 1940.  Guilford College Yearbook. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2888/images/40643_1220706242_1213-00042  

“Taroa Airfield.”  Pacific Wrecks website. https://pacificwrecks.com/airfields/marshalls/taroa/index.html

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531894_00231   

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00545-00347, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00545-00365    

“War Diary, Marine Aircraft Group Thirty One, 1 March to 31 March, 1945, inclusive.”  World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945.  Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/295839249

“War Diary, Marine Aircraft Group Thirty One, 1 April to 30 April, 1945, inclusive.”  World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945.  Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/296579226

“War Diary, Marine Aircraft Group Thirty One, 1 May to 31 May, 1945, inclusive.”  World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945.  Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/296078122, https://www.fold3.com/image/296078129

“War Diary, Marine Fighting Squadron Four Forty One, 1 May, 1945 to 31 May, 1945, inclusive.”  World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945.  Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/296078208, https://www.fold3.com/image/296078213

“WAVE Recruit Leaves.” Journal-Every Evening, November 16, 1944, Pg. 6. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/79003408/jessup-waves/

Webster, Eleanor M. “Lower Louviers and Chicken Alley.”  August 1970.  National Park Service. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/72000293_text

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947.  Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System.  National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_10_00005-00512  


Last updated on June 11, 2021

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