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Joseph Williams Vance Jr.

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Joseph Williams Vance Jr.
Born(1918-12-04)December 4, 1918
Memphis, Tennessee
DiedAugust 8, 1942(1942-08-08) (aged 23)
Killed in action in the Pacific theatre
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1940-1942
RankLieutenant (j.g.)
Battles/warsWorld War II
*Battle of Makassar Strait
*Battle of Badoeng Strait
AwardsBronze Star

Joseph Williams Vance Jr. (December 4, 1918 – August 8, 1942) was an officer in the United States Navy decorated for action in the Battle of Makassar Strait during World War II.


Joseph Williams Vance Jr. attended Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis from 1936 to 1938 and later the University of Florida at Gainesville before he enlisted in the Naval Reserve on 26 July 1940 as an apprentice seaman. After serving at sea in Arkansas (BB-33) during the late summer and early fall, he was appointed midshipman on 22 November and reported to Prairie State (IX-15) for further training.

Commissioned ensign on 28 February 1941, Vance drew Asiatic Fleet duty and joined Parrott (DD-218) in the Philippine Islands on 16 April. His ship conducted maneuvers and exercises in the Philippine Archipelago through the summer of the critical year, 1941; and, as the international situation continued to be "tense and unpredictable," was dispatched on 24 November with her division—Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 58—to Tarakan, Borneo.

Soon after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (8 December west of the date line), Parrott and her sister ships joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) effort to stem the Japanese tide sweeping down from the north. Parrott operated in the Netherlands East Indies archipelago until the fall of Java, participating in two major engagements—the Battle of Makassar Strait (24 January 1942) and the Battle of Badoeng Strait (20 February 1942).

For his gallantry during the first action, Ens. Vance was awarded the Bronze Star. As the ship's torpedo officer, Vance had charge of the destroyer's 12-tube battery of 21-inch torpedo tubes—in effect the ship's "main battery." On 23 January, DesDiv 58 began a final approach to the town of Balikpapan, Borneo, captured only that day by the Japanese. Dutch "scorched earth" policies and a Dutch air raid had set fire to most of the vital petroleum storage areas, starting blazes which clearly silhouetted the Japanese transports lying to offshore.

On 24 January, in the initial phase of the Battle of Makassar Strait, Vance and his torpedo crews had bad luck. All eight torpedoes missed on the first run-in. The division turned and tried again—this time with success. Three "fish" ran straight and true from Parrott's tubes on the port battery, sinking 3,500-ton transport Sumanoura Maru. Within minutes, Parrott teamed up with Pope (DD-225) and Paul Jones (DD-230) in delivering a torpedo attack on Tatsukami Maru, holing her and sending her to the bottom shortly thereafter. Soon the American force retired in the confusion of the melee while the Japanese area commander sent his escorts on a wild goose chase after American submarines!

Vance's bronze star citation took note that he had skillfully fired four salvoes in a battle at close range, in which a wide variety of target speeds and approaches had been used and had directed the fire by means of an old-fashioned open sight. By his "ability, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty," Vance contributed substantially to Parrott's performance in the United States Navy's first surface action victory—a tactical one at best—in the war against Japan.

Parrott then continued her operations in defense of the Malay barrier, taking part in the Battle of Badoeng Strait on 20 February—an action in which the ship was damaged. The destroyer ended up in Fremantle with the remnants of the Asiatic Fleet scattered by the Battle of the Java Sea from 27 February to 1 March. Vance remained in Parrott through the spring, when he received promotion to lieutenant (junior grade) on 15 June 1942.

As Allied forces gathered for the assault on Japanese-held Guadalcanal, Vance received orders to HMAS Canberra, as liaison officer with the Australian Navy. Canberra, once the prewar flagship of the Australian squadron, departed Wellington, New Zealand, on 22 July, bound for Guadalcanal and what was to be her final action. On 8 August, the Australian cruiser helped to screen American transports off the landing beaches and then in the evening retired, in company with Chicago (CA-29), to a night screening position south of Savo Island.

Unbeknownst to the Allied force, a Japanese cruiser formation steamed undetected down "the Slot" between Guadalcanal and Savo Islands. [Correction: the Japanese force was spotted by aerial surveillance and reported to Adm. Turner's forces during the afternoon of the 8th.] They soon opened fire with guns (8- and 5.5-inch) and the dreaded "long lance" torpedoes. Chicago took a torpedo forward, but Canberra took the worst punishment in the form of a veritable hail of shells which soon reduced her to a blazing wreck. During the engagement, Lt. (jg.) Vance was killed in action.


The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Vance (DE-387), which saw duty in the latter part of World War II, was named in his honor and sponsored by Mrs. Joseph W. Vance, his mother.


Other articles of the topic World War II : Gust J. Swenning, Neldon Theo French, Carl W. Weiss, George Heyliger, Louis J. Carpellotti, J. Douglas Blackwood, Oliver Mitchell
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  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

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