Towers, John Henry.

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John Henry Towers, born 30-01-1885 in Rome, Georgia, U.S.  naval officer and aviator. Son of William McGee  Towers (1846-1912) and his wife Mary Caroline Norton Towers ( 1851-1917). Brother of Reuben Norton Towers (1876-1938), William McGee Towers ( 1878-1968), Mary Norton Towers ( 1883-1956) and Ruth Towers ( 1887-1907).John Henry was married, in 1930, with Anne Pierette Towers ( 1902-1990) and the couple had one daughter, Majorie Towers Rotureau.John Henry Tower graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906. In 1911 he became only the third naval officer to qualify as a pilot. During his first ten years as an aviator he set up naval air stations, held key staff positions in Washington, and commanded the flight of three Navy-Curtis seaplanes that tried to fly the Atlantic in May 1919 Early Naval Aviators: Towers is seated second from left. Glenn Hammond Curtiss, aviation and motorcycling pioneer, and a founder of the U.S. aircraft industry at controls. Theodore “Spuds” Ellyson
at the nose wheel of the plane. John later served as captain of the carriers

Under the tutelage of aviation these pioneers Curtiss and Ellyson, Towers qualified as a pilot with the Aero Club of America on 13-09-1911, flying the Navy’s first airplane, a Curtiss A-1 seaplane. In Sept 1911 Towers and Ellyson created the first official Naval Air Station and flying aviation unit at Greenbury Point, Md across the Severn River from the Naval Academy under orders from Captain Washington Irving Chambers, the first Navy officer assigned to development of the nascent U.S. Naval aviation program.

On 20-06-1913, Towers was nearly killed in an aviation mishap over the Chesapeake Bay. While he was flying as a passenger in a Wright seaplane, his plane was caught in a sudden downdraft and plummeted earthward. The pilot, Ensign William Devotie Billingsley, age 26, was thrown from the aircraft and killed (becoming the first naval aviation fatality). Towers was wrenched from his seat but managed to catch a wing strut and stay with the plane until it crashed into the Chesapeake. Interviewed by Glenn Curtiss soon thereafter, Towers recounted the circumstances of the tragedy; his report and resultant recommendations eventually led to the design and adoption of safety belts and harnesses for pilots and their passengers.

In August 1914, shortly after the war began, Towers was ordered to London as assistant naval attaché—a billet he filled until he returned to the United States in the autumn of 1916. That August Lieutenant Towers accompanied the U.S. Relief Expedition aboard the USS Tennessee as part of the naval delegation led by Commander Reginald Rowan Belknap, with overall command by Assistant Secretary of the Army Henry Skillman Breckinridge. Subsequently, Towers advocated for the First Yale Unit, which became the core of naval aviation’s participation in the war. Towers was subsequently awarded the Navy Cross for his wartime service as Assistant Director of Naval Aviation.

During the interwar years, Towers was the leading advocate of Naval Aviation (and especially carrier aviation) when there was virtually no other support within or outside of the navy. He was involved in a number of pioneering developments in Naval Aviation, including the first transatlantic crossing by aircraft; serving as commander of the first U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Langley; and holding important positions (including bureau chief) within the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer), the organizational structure established for naval aviation in 1921.John Tower was also made a commander of the Order of the Tower and Sword by the Portuguese government on 03-06-1919. Ten years later, Towers and the flight crew of NC-4 were awarded Congressional Gold Medals.

Between June 1933 and June 1939, Towers filled a variety of billets ashore and afloat: he completed the senior course at the Naval War College in 1934; commanded the Naval Air Station at San Diego; again served on the staff of ComAirBatFor; commanded the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga; and became Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. On 01-06-1939, he was named chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics with the accompanying rank of Rear Admiral.

As Aeronautics Bureau chief, Towers organized the Navy’s aircraft procurement plans while war clouds gathered over the Far East and in the Atlantic. Under his leadership, the air arm of the Navy grew from 2,000 planes in 1939 to 39,000 in 1942. He also instituted a rigorous pilot-training program and established a trained group of reserve officers for ground support duties. During Towers’ tenure, the number of men assigned to naval aviation activities reached a high point of some three quarters of a million.

Promoted to vice admiral on 6 October 1942, Towers became Commander, Air Force, Pacific Fleet. From this billet, he supervised the development, organization, training, and supply of the Fleet’s growing aviation capability, and helped develop the strategy which spelled the doom of the Japanese fleet and eventual American victory in the Pacific. For his “sound judgment and keen resourcefulness”, Towers received, successively, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Naval Academy classmates, now admirals, in Pacific in November 1943: William Lowndes “Wllie” Calhoun, died 19-10-1963 (age 79) John Towers, Robert Lee  Ghormley   and Aubrey Wray Fitch, who died May 22-05-1978 (aged 94)in Newcastle, Maine

Towers was subsequently promoted to the dual position of Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Area (DCINCPOA) and Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet (DCINCPAC). In this capacity, he served as Admiral Chester Nimitz’s chief advisor on naval aviation policy, fleet logistics, and administration matters.

Allied sailors and officers watch General of the Army Douglas MacArthur sign documents during the surrender ceremony aboard Missouri on 02-09-1945. Towers is ninth from the right.

In August 1945, Towers was given command of the Second Fast Carrier Task Force and Task Force 38, Pacific Fleet. He held this position in the closing days of the war.

On 7 November 1945, he broke his flag aboard the battleship USS New Jersey as commander, 5th Fleet. On 01-02-1946, he relieved Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance  as commander in chief, Pacific Fleet, with the aircraft carrier USS Bennington his flagship, and held the post until March 1947.

In 1946, President Harry Shipp Truman signed the first Outline Command Plan (now known as the Unified Command Plan) that called for the establishment of several joint or unified commands. On 01-01-1947, the new United States Pacific Command stood up as one of the first unified commands with Admiral Towers as its first commander. He served as the commander of Pacific Command for only two months before being reassigned: 01-01-1947 till 28-02-1947. Admiral Towers was dual-hatted as both commander in chief, Pacific Fleet and commander in chief, Pacific Command.

After chairing the Navy’s General Board from March to December 1947, Towers retired on 01-12- 1947.

Death and burial ground of Towers, John Henry.

    After retirement, Towers served as president of the Pacific War Memorial, as assistant to the president of Pan American World Airways, and as president of the Flight Safety Council. Towers died in St. Albans’ Hospital, Jamaica, New York, on 30-04-1955, age 70 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Section 30, grave 676.
In 1961, Towers was posthumously designated the second recipient of the Gray Eagle Award, as the most senior active naval aviator from 1928 until his retirement. He was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1966, the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1973, the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor in 1981 and the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004.

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