Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Joseph Ackerman (1923–1945)

Joseph Ackerman as a U.S. Navy aviation cadet in 1943 (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
HometownCivilian Occupation
Wilmington, DelawareClerk for the DuPont Company
BranchService Number
U.S. Naval Reserve7207828
American (Zone of Interior)Naval Air Gunners School, Jacksonville, Florida

Early Life & Family

Joseph Ackerman was born in the Delaware Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 16, 1923. He was the only child of Ignatius Aloysius Ackerman (1886–1956) and Anna Lillian Ackerman (née Glenn, 1888–1966). His parents were living at 108 West 4th Street at the time. Ackerman’s father, a Pennsylvania Railroad brakeman and later conductor, served in the U.S. Army during World War I. On March 22, 1924, Ackerman’s father purchased a home at 1320 West Street in Wilmington for $5,400. Ackerman apparently resided there until he entered the service.

During high school, Ackerman played intramural sports, was in the Dramatics, Photography, and French clubs, and swam on the varsity team at the local Y.M.C.A. In a resumé dated November 20, 1942, Ackerman wrote that “My hobby is photography. I have enjoyed this pastime for a period of six years.” He ran a photography club at the Y.M.C.A. He added, “I have been a counselor at the Y.M.C.A. camp for underprivileged boys near Talleyville, Wilmington, Delaware, and worked at that camp for 2 seasons.”

Ackerman c. 1942 in a photograph attached to his application for aviation cadet training in the U.S. Naval Reserve (National Personnel Records Center)

Ackerman graduated from Salesianum High School on June 8, 1941, ranking 11th in his class of 46 and earning the Edward B. Hickey and Joseph S. Featherstone Memorial Prize “for excellence in English.” On July 21, 1941, he began working for the DuPont Company at 10th and Market Streets in Wilmington as a clerk for $108 per month. Apparently, he also worked as a clerk for the Y.M.C.A. before entering the service.

Ackerman’s military paperwork described him as standing five feet, 7¾ inches tall and weighing 106 lbs., with brown hair and eyes. He was Catholic.

Military Career

Ackerman volunteered for the V-5 (Naval Aviation Cadet) program on November 18, 1942. He was accepted and enlisted for a four-year term in the U.S. Naval Reserve at the Naval Aviation Cadet Selection Board, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 11, 1942. He was placed on inactive status for the next few months—presumably while waiting for a training slot to open—and returned to work at DuPont until July 1, 1943. In a letter dated July 21, 1943, Aviation Cadet Ackerman was ordered to report for active duty at U.S. Naval Flight Preparatory School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on August 5, 1943.

Identification card photo (National Personnel Records Center)

Ackerman was dropped from the V-5 program on November 19, 1943. Lieutenant Carl K. Johnson wrote in a memorandum that Ackerman struggled with navigation and physics, adding that “Cadet Ackerman has been a below average man in his training” and “has displayed no initiative nor extra curricular interests which would tend to make him a candidate for officer training.”

Ackerman was reclassified as V-6 (General Service and Specialists) and reported for recruit training at the U.S. Naval Training Station, Bainbridge, Maryland, on November 24, 1943. After completing boot camp on January 17, 1944, Ackerman was promoted from apprentice seaman to seaman 2nd class. Presumably due to his civilian photography experience, on February 22, 1944, he was transferred to the Naval Photographic School at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, to train as an aerial photographer. Seaman 2nd Class Ackerman was hospitalized at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Pensacola, Florida, from March 13–28, 1944.

On June 14, 1944, Seaman 2nd Class Ackerman returned to the Naval Photographic School at N.A.S. Pensacola. On July 29, 1944, Ackerman graduated with a score of 83/100 and was rated as a photographer’s mate 3rd class. That same day, he was transferred to the Naval Air Gunners School, Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, on July 29, 1944. That same month, Ackerman noticed a small mass on his left testicle.

Soon after arriving at Jacksonville, Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Ackerman was placed on the sick list on August 4, 1944. When his condition did not improve, Ackerman was hospitalized at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Jacksonville, Florida, on August 22, 1944. As the tumor continued to grow, doctors at Jacksonville requested Ackerman’s transfer to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, on September 12, 1944. He departed Jacksonville one week later, arriving at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital on September 21. Physicians there diagnosed him with metastatic testicular cancer. On September 26, 1944, doctors began treatment with X-rays at the metastases, followed by an orchidectomy on October 19.

Initially, the treatment seemed to be effective. He was granted leave from the hospital to visit his family in Wilmington from December 20, 1944, through January 20, 1945. However, the same month that his leave ended, new metastases were identified. In a medical survey dated June 4, 1945, a board of physicians concluded “that the president disease now verges on its terminal phase[.]” Despite continued treatment at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, Ackerman was bedridden by August 1945 and died on September 4, 1945, just after the Japanese surrender brought World War II to a close.

Ackerman service summary (National Personnel Records Center)

After his funeral, held at his Wilmington home on September 8, 1945, and requiem mass at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Ackerman was buried at Cathedral Cemetery in Wilmington. His parents were also buried there after their deaths.

Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Ackerman was posthumously awarded the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. He is honored at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.


Middle Name

Ackerman enlisted in the U.S. Navy as Joseph Ackerman, with no middle name. His birth certificate likewise had no middle name listed. Other records, such as his draft card and high school transcript, gave his name as Joseph Aloysius Ackerman. As a result, his father had to fill out a form for the Navy certifying that Joseph Ackerman “is one and the same person as” Joseph Aloysius Ackerman.

Plane Crash Survivor?

A friend of Ackerman’s, George A. Reece, wrote Delaware archives to ensure that Ackerman was included in the Delaware memorial volume. Summarizing Ackerman’s career, Reece wrote:

He was later transferred to Pensacola, Florida and while on a training flight the plane he was in crashed, from which he developed internal injuries and was sent to a naval hospital in New York City.  While in the hospital he developed leukemia.  He later died.

There is no mention of a plane crash in Ackerman’s military personnel file. The crash, if it indeed occurred, was presumably responsible for his hospitalization at Pensacola from March 13–28, 1944. If so, it would appear that Reece was mistaken about the reason for Ackerman’s transfer to the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, confusing two different hospitalizations.

It’s unclear if the mention of leukemia was a mistake or a falsehood by Reece (or Ackerman, if that is who gave Reece the information). Presumably, Reece or Ackerman had the perception that testicular cancer was embarrassing in a way that leukemia was not. The Delaware memorial volume omitted any mention of cancer at all, inaccurately stating that Ackerman died “of internal injuries received in a plane crash while on a training flight at Pensacola, Florida.”


Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo.


Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

“Ignatius Ackerman.” Journal-Every Evening, January 12, 1956.

In Memoriam: A Memorial Volume Dedicated to those Men and Women of Delaware who lost their lives During World War II. State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, 1949. Delaware Public Archives website. 

“Joseph A. Ackerman.” Wilmington Morning News, September 6, 1945.

Joseph A. Ackerman Official Military Personnel File. Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Reece, George A. Joseph A. Ackerman Individual Military Service Record, June 15, 1948. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri.

Last updated on February 6, 2023

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